Israeli imprisoned in Egypt launches hunger strike

Ouda Tarabin, incarcerated in 2000 on charges of espionage, says authorities failing him

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An Israeli citizen, held for over 12 years in an Egyptian prison on charges of spying that he denies, said he is starting a hunger strike in protest against both Egyptian and Israeli authorities that have failed to bring about his release.

“I am the only one who is paying the price of the revenge and hatred for the State of Israel and the prime minister that come from the Egyptian government and those who head it,” wrote Ouda Tarabin, a Bedouin from Rahat, in a hand-written letter to Israel’s ambassador in Cairo, Yaacov Amitai, on Tuesday.

Ouda Tarabin's Israeli ID card.
Ouda Tarabin’s Israeli ID card.

Tarabin said that he began his fast because Israel has violated its commitments to him by not doing enough to secure his freedom, even though it knows that he is innocent. Tarabin also asked for the letter to be delivered Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

“I request from the honorable sir, that by virtue of his being the ambassador of Israel and the representative of the prime minister in Egypt, to bring a notification of my hunger strike to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi,” he wrote.

In recent years there has been talk of a prisoner exchange of dozens of Egyptians held in Israel in return for Tarabin, but so far they have not come to fruition. Likewise, he was not included in the 2011 Ilan Grapel exchange.

In 2000, the 19-year-old Israeli Bedouin Tarabin was captured by Egyptian forces after he illegally crossed the border. He was tried for espionage in absentia by an Egyptian military court and sentenced to 15 years in prison under Egypt’s emergency laws, which allow possibility for parole. Tarabin has maintained his innocence from his Cairo jail since his arrest.

It is unknown why Tarabin crossed the border from Israel to Sinai, but Tarabin’s brother claims that he was likely planning to visit his sister in El-Arish. Another version contends that Tarabin, a shepherd, strayed across the border while searching for a lost camel.

Although Israel lobbied for Tarabin’s release in October 2011 as part of the deal negotiated for the release of Ilan Grapel, the Egyptians were not willing to consider the suggestion. Grapel, a law student with dual US and Israeli citizenship, was jailed for five months on espionage charges before being released in exchange for 25 Egyptian prisoners.

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