2006-01-06 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach


I have not seen “Munich,” and I probably won’t see it until it comes out on DVD. I don’t have to see it. I lived through it. In 1972, my son was five years old and we lived in Portland, Connecticut. I worked as a editor for American Education Publications, the company that published “Weekly Reader” and “Current Events” among many others. The tragedy was a roller-coaster ride all the way. It was down when the Black September Guerillas took 10 Israeli athletes right from Olympic City in Munich, killing two in the takeover. The coaster went up when we were told that the hostages were going to be flown to an Arab nation to be exchanged for prisoners being held in Israel, Germany and the United States. It went down again when we learned that there was a shoot-out at the military airport on the way to the hostage exchange.

We were all exuberant when the news was passed by Jim McKay at Channel Seven (The ABC Network had an exclusive for the Olympics and McKay was really the only television reporter on the story from the beginning) passed the word that the Germans had rescued all of the hostages and that all but three of the Moslem guerillas were dead.

It did not take long, however, for the truth to come out. The German Army had badly botched the rescue effort (after refusing help from such experts as Israel and the United States) and all of the hostages were dead, most by a hand grenade tossed into a crowded helicopter by a dying Moslem and some from bullets shot from the guns of the German snipers involved in the rescue effort.

The death of a dozen athletes at the hands of the Black September did not end the Olympics. The entire Israeli team flew home with the bodies of their comrades. The rest of the athletes went merrily on their way, playing games that produced medals by athletes whose names were forgotten long before the Munich incident will be forgotten. “The Games Must Go On,” feeling permeated the thoughts of the officials of the International Olympic Committee. There was not one representative of the IOC at the funerals of those who died in the name of Arab nationalism.

The story did not end with the national funerals of the 12 athletes who had been killed in Munich, however.

Israel’s Prime Minister, Gold Mier, often called “a tough old broad” by those who knew her well (but never to her face), decided that Black September and its supporters could not get away with killing Israelis without sanction. She ordered a death sentence not only for the three men who escaped the massacre (they were released by Germany when one of its planes was taken over by other guerillas. They folded like a cheap suit), but anybody remotely involved in the planning as well.

That is where Steven Spielberg’s movie, “Munich” begins. Spielberg called the movie “his prayer for peace.” As a Jew of a certain age, he should know better. He too lived through Munich.

Although I have not seen the movie, I have seen the trailers on television and have spoken to several people who have and have read all the reviews (See Rob Snyder’s review in this week’s edition of The Wave.)

The movie seems to make the point that both the Israelis and those who killed them were somehow equally culpable and that the Israeli killers who went out searching for and killing those involved in Munich faces a crisis of faith and had second thoughts about what they were doing.

I have read many things written by the Israelis themselves and by their contemporaries. Nowhere does that crisis of faith or that indecision about killing guerrillas and their leaders come to play. They were glad to be doing a job that had to be done for their country.

In fact, each of the people they killed were under death sentence decreed by a secret committee who only allowed the Mossad (the Israeli secret service) to add a name to the list if there was definite proof that the person under the sentence was guilty.

Did that court make mistakes? Did the operative make mistakes? Of course they did. They operated over a 20-year block of time and with the kind of evidence that would probably not have stood up in an American court of law. Were each of those killed guilty of planning to drive Israel into the sea? With the exception of one Arab man who was killed in Lillehammer in error (all of the intelligence said that he was the right man, but he was not), the answer to that question is a determined “yes.”

Leon Wieseltier, writing in The New Republic, had this to say about the movie. “It is soaked in the sweat of its idea of evenhandedness. Palestinians murder, Israelis murder. Palestinians show evidence of a conscience, Israelis show evidence of a conscience. Palestinians suppress their scruples, Israelis suppress their scruples. Palestinians make little speeches about home and blood and soil. Israelis make little speeches about home and blood and soil. Palestinians kill innocents. Israelis kill innocents. It is worth pointing out that the death of innocents was an Israeli mistake but a Palestinian objective.”

In one of the trailers that shows more and more frequently on television now that the holiday is over, the Palestinian who is about to be killed by his Israeli protagonist tells him that he never “knew what it was like to not have a home,” that he had his own land.

First of all, many of those who were involved with the Black September were not Palestinians in the strict sense even though they were operating with a PLO splinter group. (if there is such a thing as a Palestinian, since Palestine has not existed since 1948. Most of those Arabs who fled the mandate when they were told by the Grand Mufti (who had worked hand in hand with Hitler to exterminate Jews) that they could come back to their land in a few weeks when the Hagganah (the fledging Jewish underground army) was defeated and the Jews were thrown into the sea.

In fact, Jews have been homeless for millennia. The last Jewish homeland prior to 1948 was the kingdom ruled by King David. The Arabs, of course, continue to say that that kingdom was a myth, just as they continue to say even today that the Holocaust was a myth perpetrated by Zionists who wanted an excuse to take Arab land.

It is clear that the back-story for “Munich” did not start last week.

And, although Wieseltier writes that “Munich is desperate not to have a point of view,” the Moslem world reacted badly to the film.

In fact, Mohammed Daoud (the man they thought they had in Lilliehammer), one of the masterminds of the 1972 massacre who escaped Israeli justice, said, “if [Spielberg] really wanted to make it a prayer for peace, he would have listened to both sides of the story and reflected reality, rather than serving the Zionist side alone.”

Perhaps now the Israelis will know where to find Daoud. I hear his death sentence is still active.

Aaron Klien, an Israeli journalist who has worked for “Time” magazine as well as several daily papers in that country has written a book called “Striking Back: The 1962 Munich Massacre and Israel’s Deadly Response.” It is a book that everybody who wants to know the truth of what is shown in shadow in “Munich” should read, says that Israel made many mistakes in the two decades following Munich. For his book, he interviewed Aharon Yariv, who, in 1972, was the head of military intelligence for Israel.

Yariv defended the terror campaign against Arab terrorists after Munich. “When we killed terrorist mastermind Wadi Hadad there were no more plane hijackings,” he told Klein. “When we killed Fathi Shkaki, the head of Islamic Jahid, the organization collapsed. It took them three years to rebuild. They were neutralized for three years.”

Klein’s ideas are far from those shown in “Munich.” Whose are more realistic in terms of deterring terrorism? See the movie. Read the book. Do some other reading. Then, decide for yourself. There is a lesson in there for America in the wake of September 11, 2001. In any case, “Munich” might well have been done by Oliver Stone for all the truth it tells. Perhaps that all we can expect in these days of political correctness.

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