Philly Local in Israel Receives ‘Welcome to Palestine’ Text From T-Mobile

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Ami Dolev was "shocked" to receive a "Welcome to Palestine" text from a T-Mobile international roaming partner upon his arrival in Israel.

When Ami Dolev arrived at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Feb. 3, he flipped on his cell phone and received a welcome message from a T-Mobile international roaming partner.

The only problem? The message read, “Welcome to Palestine.”

“It’s pretty crazy that in today’s world, even though T-Mobile is a pretty significant, large company in the U.S. that they can’t even say ‘Israel,’ ” said Dolev, a 41-year-old father of three from Elkins Park who was born and raised in Israel before moving to the United States 20 years ago. “This is just crazy.”

The owner of Teva Landscaping, a local landscaping and maintenance company, Dolev often returns to Israel for business and to visit his family, most of whom still live in the Jewish state.

But the errant welcome message kicked off his most recent visit — to visit his ill mother — with a bad taste in his mouth.

“I said to myself, ‘No way, this can’t be,’ ” Dolev said of his initial reaction. “I was upset, I was disappointed.”

Rod Ritner, the operations manager for Teva Landscaping, quickly called T-Mobile upon learning of his colleague’s story to ask for clarification. T-Mobile employees offered an initial apology and told him they would look into it, according to Ritner.

Dolev said his company has used the cell phone service provider for 16 years, but this incident could lead them to switch to another, depending on the answer he receives about the mix-up.

In response to an email from the Jewish Exponent, T-Mobile’s media relations team wrote: “Wireless service areas may not align exactly with borders, so on rare occasions, a customer may receive a wireless signal from a cross-border international roaming partner.”

Ben Gurion Airport is roughly 12 miles away from the nearest border with the West Bank.

But Dolev wasn't the only one to be on the receiving end of the Palestine message. Nate Zhivalyuk, a 30-year-old father of two from Bala Cynwyd, received the same message as Dolev when he arrived in Israel for a visit a week ago.

In Zhivalyuk's case, the initial message welcoming him to Palestine was followed a few minutes later by the correct "Welcome to Israel" message.

"I was shocked that T-Mobile would send that text message," said Zhivalyuk, a biomedical equipment technician. "There is no country of Palestine — it felt politically incorrect."

Dolev said that while he didn’t want to “make a big deal out of it,” even little things like a mistaken message welcoming T-Mobile users to "Palestine" instead of "Israel" can negatively “influence a lot of people.”

“I just want it to be fixed; I want T-Mobile to be aware of this. I want them to know that people are watching,” he said. He said the incident was discussed last week at a relative's dinner table in Netanya, a coastal town about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

“As Israelis we live politics, we breathe politics — you become very sensitive to your surroundings and you’re always on the edge; you’re always aware,” Dolev said, adding that T-Mobile shouldn't "sugarcoat it because of what may or may not be some type of business or political reason why people say ‘Palestine’ — tell the truth, don’t manipulate people.”