Comment: In defense of Ilan Grapel

The careless hunt for adventure Grapel showed is an Israeli trait more common than many of his potential detractors would care to admit.

Ilan Grapel_311 (photo credit: Channel 10 News)
Ilan Grapel_311
(photo credit: Channel 10 News)
Four months after his arrest by Egyptian security forces, American Israeli Ilan Grapel is back in Israel.
Assuming that he was not in fact the worst Mossad operative in history (the fact that he had an open Facebook account under his real name, to which he posted pictures from his IDF service, should cast some doubt that he was the next Eli Cohen in training), Grapel’s story appears to be one of a careless, naïve, possibly not so bright kid who put himself in harm’s way and forced his country (both of them) to pay a heavy ransom for his release.
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In that sense, though, Grapel is little different than the myriads of young Israelis on their post-army trips who trek through the Colombian back-country or go hiking in Kashmir, looking for unbeaten paths where the package tourists dare not tread.
In corners of the world where most of the Western tourists have long since left, there’s a good chance you can find Israelis haggling in the local markets, or trying to score hash in the local guest house.
True, unlike in revolutionary Cairo, bad men in those countries are usually not looking for Jews or Israelis, but they do target foreigners, and they do play for keeps.
Closer to home, Grapel could find kindred spirits among the Israelis who still travel to Sinai year-round, in spite of the near-constant terror advisories warning against traveling to the peninsula.
Also in Egypt, Grapel could have found fellow travelers among the many “protest groupies” from across Europe and North America who flew to Cairo this past January to soak in the revolutionary vibe of Tahrir Square.
They were easy for me to spot in Tahrir, young 20- somethings with starry eyes, locking arms with the face painted Egyptian revolutionaries and posing for Facebook pictures next to Egyptian army tanks or burned-out cars.
True, they didn’t face the potentially lethal danger of being outed as Jews or Israelis, but they were still vulnerable Westerners traipsing through a country in upheaval.
Like Grapel, there were also a rather large number of Israeli journalists in Cairo (myself included) who traveled on non-Israeli passports for their work. A number of these journalists were carrying passports from European countries they have never visited and whose language they don’t speak, and were in possession of the document because of the country of origin of a parent or grandparent.
Any of these journalists could have been easily sniffed out by a mukhabarat secret police officer asking very basic follow-up questions.
More than anything else, Grapel was unlucky. But the stupidity and the careless hunt for adventure he showed is an Israeli trait more common than many of his detractors would care to admit.
While he’ll certainly feel a bit crushed by the limelight after his return, Grapel can take solace in the fact that at least he knows what his life is worth: in this case, 25 Beduin smugglers and infiltrators, and – reportedly – an F-16.
Israelis can find comfort that their country will not forsake them because they showed poor judgment far from home, where they aren’t known and aren’t wanted.