An Israeli woman detained in Rome for vandalizing a column at the city’s iconic Colosseum apologized for the act on Saturday and insisted it was “innocent mistake” that had been blown out of proportion.
“I made a mistake and I’m sorry. It was innocent. They assassinated my character without hearing the facts,” she said of media reports in Italy and Israel about the incident.
Olga Segal, 39, was leading a children’s dance troupe, EIAAP, through Rome on Thursday when she passed one of the inner pillars in the Roman arena, the world’s largest amphitheater, which dates from 70-80 CE. She stopped to pick up a piece of stone to scratch the troupe’s name (– and not, as initially reported, the initials of her family –) into the column.
“I did it innocently. Suddenly a cop showed up and arrested me. I regret doing it. It was a stupid act, but not malicious. It wasn’t done at night when no one was there, but in the middle of the day, surrounded by lots of people,” she told the Ynet news site.
The column “had names of people from all over the world scrawled on it,” Segal insisted.
After her arrest, she was questioned for two hours, then released. Italian authorities permitted her to return to Israel to await a May 2 hearing.
The incident made the prime-time news broadcasts in Israel and Italy, and family members said they faced a torrent of abuse online from people in both countries.
Some of the reports exaggerated the damage. Italian media said she had etched the full name of the troupe, EIAAP, into the column, whereas a photograph released by Italian police showed she had only managed the first two letters before being detained — and showed, too, other initials scrawled elsewhere on the column by her predecessors.
“They told us at the [police] station that she wasn’t the only one,” Segal’s husband, Yigal, told Ynet. “No damage was done, thankfully. But the responses in Israel were very scary. It shows how much we hate ourselves. It was insulting, people wrote to her: ‘Kill yourself, let’s hang you,’ and ‘the ugly Israeli.’ She regrets what she did. It wasn’t planned. She didn’t imagine something like this could happen.”
On Friday, a colleague of Segal’s defended her, claiming she only used chalk stones, and that there were no signs saying it was forbidden.
“It looked like a wall that everyone drew on and there were no signs saying it is forbidden,” the colleague, identified only as Eli, said. “She drew the letters with chalk stones that were next to the wall, it looked like they were placed there just for that purpose.”
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“The whole wall was full of writing,” said another member of the group. “Maybe it’s forbidden, but everyone does it. She just got caught.”
Reports said the Israeli woman was only the latest of several people arrested for such vandalism at the Colosseum.
Officials at the site said the damage was minor and would be repaired quickly.
“People who vandalize are not people who should be visiting museums and cultural sites,” Italian media quoted Alfonsina Russo, the director of the Colosseum, as saying.
“What is surprising here is that we are talking about tourists who came from another country especially to learn about the heart of Western civilization,” she said.