The Greek airline –in the middle of a scandal involving Israeli Arabs and Jews– issued a public apology addressing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) over an incident wherein two Arabs were compelled to leave an Israel-bound flight after a number of Jews protested over their presence in the aircraft.
In the letter to PLO General Secretary Saed Erekat, Aegean Airlines CEO Dimitris Gerogiannis said the company greatly regrets the fact that such an incident took place where any form of discrimination is pandered to.
“Our crew reacted to a very difficult situation only having the safety and comfort of all passengers in mind,” he wrote.
Gerogiannis’ apology came after Erekat demanded that the Greek administration react to the incident saying the airline’s decision to boot the duo was reminiscent of apartheid.
On January 3, two Arab passengers with Israeli paperwork were compelled to leave the flight before it took off for Tel Aviv from Athens after Israeli Jews suspected them of being terrorists and expressed fear due to their presence. After initial complaints, the duo had their documents rechecked by Greek security upon the pilot’s intervention. But by the time they were allowed to board the flight once again, the protest against their presence had already started to escalate, with several passengers standing in the aisles and refusing to be seated unless the Arabs were booted from the aircraft.
“It started with three or four people and by the end there were 60-70 people standing up, demanding that the pair disembark,” an Aegean Airlines spokesperson said.
The incident caused the flight to be delayed by more than 90 minutes. The duo eventually left the aircraft after negotiating with Aegean Airlines and staying at a hotel at the airline’s expense and flying out the following day with compensation.
According to Israeli media, the two passengers discriminated against were a Palestinian and an Israeli Arab, while those protesting their presence were all Jewish. However, Erekat referred to both men as Palestinians, condemning the airline’s decision to boot them disgraceful and unjust.
“We are outraged by how two Palestinians were treated with discrimination and prejudice at the hands of the Aegean cabin crew prior to the departure of last Sunday’s flight,” he said in a statement. “We call upon the Greek government to take strong action against this racist act, including compensation for the two Palestinian passengers. This appalling behavior by the Israeli passengers is reminiscent of the worst years of the South African apartheid.”
After issuing the apology, Aegean Airlines thanked both men for cooperating while admitting that the incident was in fact regrettable.
“We thank again the two Israeli passengers that agreed to disembark for their understanding and collaboration and we apologize for the whole episode which was indeed extremely unfortunate,” the airlines said.
Some Arabs and their descendants –who chose to stay in Israel following its creation in 1948– choose to identify as Palestinian. Following the incident, Michal Rozin (a member of the Knesset for Meretz) called for an urgent meeting of the Economic Affairs Committee.
“The State of Israel has a responsibility to its citizens,” Rozin argued. “It can't be that a commercial company, which has signed aviation agreements with Israel, allows itself to disembark passengers based on their physical appearance at the demands of (other) passengers.”
She blamed the incident on government leaders, explaining how the Prime Minister and his legion of ministers continue to sow fear and hate through incitement and slander; which is why such instances of discrimination still take place.
“The government must understand that marking Israeli-Arab citizens as potential terrorists leads to the loss of morals and values that endangers our future as a society,” she said.
Photo Credits: Travelux