Freed From Egyptian Prison, Bedouin 'Spy' Feels 'Very Lucky to Be Israeli'

Ouda Tarabin, who was released after 15 years in jail, gets warm welcome in southern village.

Ouda Tarabin, who was released from Egyptian prison after 15 years, meets Azzam Azzam, who was also held by Egypt for nearly eight years.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Ouda Tarabin’s family lives north of Be’er Sheva on a hill facing the Duda’im waste disposal facility only a few dozen meters away. The mountains of trash are accompanied by ear-piercing explosions and the constant smell of burning garbage –- but even these insufferable conditions did not succeed in blunting the happiness in the village on Thursday when Tarabin returned home after 15 years in an Egyptian prison.

Tarabin, a 34-year-old Bedouin who was imprisoned in Egypt after being convicted of spying for Israel, was released on Thursday after what Israel said was the completion of his prison sentence, while Egyptian authorities said he was released as part of a prisoner swap.

A few days earlier, Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara came to the Tarabins’ home with the good news they were waiting for: Ouda would be released on time, on the date his sentence ended. Kara said the release was partly due to contacts held with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to guarantee the release as scheduled.

The family was told not to say anything about Ouda’s release until after he crossed the border into Israel. Once he did, on Thursday morning, the village took off from work and came to the family home to greet him, even though it was not clear when he would arrive. They quickly set up a tent to host the guests and served the local and foreign journalists refreshments.

Only around 4:15 p.m. did Ouda Tarabin arrive in a car with dark windows, and was quickly taken into the house. The happy cries of women and honking horns filled the air, while children who had never met him ran to see what was happening. His lawyer waited outside the house, trying to get a bit of credit for all the years he helped the family.

Ouda Tarabin, a Bedouin Israeli citizen, arrives to his village after he was released from Egyptian prison.
Ilan Assayag

The door opened a few minutes later. Ouda’s mother Kharbe hugged him for a while, murmuring her thanks to God. Ouda then when out to see his friends and neighbors, and one after another, in a sort of marathon, he kissed all of them, including his childhood friends whom he has not seen for 15 years.

'I was in a cemetery in Egypt'

Ouda was obviously very excited by his homecoming, and thanked everyone involved in his release. He answered a few questions, switching between Arabic, Hebrew and English.

“I was in a cemetery in Egypt,” he said. Tarabin thanked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, the staff of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and his lawyer Yitzhak Meltzer.

“I feel I’m in a dream. I don’t believe I’m here,” he said. Tarabin said he was unable to speak about the circumstances that led to his arrest in Egypt, but said an Egyptian officer told him the night before his release: “Ouda, prepare yourself.”

“I am very lucky I’m an Israeli citizen, this country does everything for its citizens,” he added.

Even though the date of his release was known well in advance, the contacts on the matter between Israel and Egypt were conducted by Kara, and included an Israeli promise to keep his release as low-key as possible, and that Tarabin’s release would be accompanied by additional moves to strengthen the economic relations between the two countries.