“Welcome to Palestine,” said an Alitalia pilot as he landed in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, causing a stir among passengers and the airline’s Israeli employees, an Alitalia spokesman reportedly said.
The Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported that his announcement came when an overnight flight from the Italian airline Alitalia from Rome to Tel Aviv landed in Tel Aviv.
“We have not spoken to the captain,” said the company’s spokesperson in Israel, Orly Segal to the Israeli daily. “But if this did happen it will not go over quietly.”
According to Segal, “one thing is certain, this captain will not fly to Israel again.”
On Wednesday May 7, Israel will celebrate its “independence day”, which Palestinians mark as Nakba (“catastrophe”). The two names denote the same thing: the day of the creation of the state of Israel which led to the expulsion of nearly a million Palestinian from their homes and lands, into a life of bitter exile.
A spokesman for Alitalia stressed that the reported remarks do not represent the view of the airline and its CEO Francesco Mengozzi reportedly sent a letter of apology to Israel’s ambassador in Rome, Ehud Goal, saying the pilot’s comment was “not in line with Alitalia’s posture.”
Pini Schiff, a spokesman for Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority was reported saying that the authority intended to send a formal complaint about the incident to aviation industry regulators. He said passengers had complained about his welcome. Israeli media reported that they had demanded that the pilot come out to explain his comments to them, but he failed to do so.
Another Alitalia staffmember who later spoke with the Israeli Civil Aviation Authority apparently said that the pilot said: “Israelis are killing Palestinians every day.”
A similar incident occurred in July 2002, when one of the pilots on an Air France flight announced that the final destination was “Israel-Palestine”.