On my first visit to Munich in the summer of 1992, I immediately proceeded to the infamous apartment block of the Olympic village where the 11 Israel athletes were kidnapped 20 years earlier. I was shocked to discover that only a small, stone monument - erected by the Israeli government - stood to commemorate their slaughter.
The world mistakenly believed that Munich was a Jewish tragedy when really it was an international one. It was perhaps the first time that terrorism had been so spotlighted on the world stage.
The Jewish people have often been like a canary in a coal mine. And what afflicts them later becomes a world affliction. All too often, however, Jewish life has been treated with such callous disregard by the rest of the world that the affliction itself is disregarded. When the Jews were first persecuted by the Catholic Church, no one foresaw that religious oppression and religious war would become a driving theme of European history. When Hitler began to persecute the Jews, no one expected he could suck the entire world into his homicidal vortex. And when world terrorism began to afflict Israel, no one foresaw 9/11 and the terrorist attacks against European capitols.
AS FOR the criticism on the part of many Jewish commentators that Steven Spielberg's Munich establishes a moral equivalency between the cold-blooded murder of 11 innocent men and Israel's hunting down of the terrorist leaders, I did not see that comparison strongly emphasized in the film.
On the contrary, Spielberg shows very accurately how Israeli agents are never allowed to take a life until they've clearly established the identity of the person in question, very often risking their lives to even compare the intended victim with an actual photograph. He also shows how careful Israel is never to create collateral damage.
It is true that Spielberg makes the point, particularly in the speech given by the Mossad bomb-maker, that Jews are the peaceful people who ought not to become like their enemies by taking life.
This is, of course, an absurd argument.
It would have us believe that not only should the world see Jewish life as worthless, but Jews themselves ought to see it that way as well. One ought to be able to take a Jewish life without repercussions because the Jews are way too moral to strike out against those who plot their demise.
The Talmud clearly establishes that if one comes to slay you, slay him first. Any person whose life has been devoted to killing innocent people has erased the image of God from their countenance and has therefore erased their own right to life.
I HAVE been a rabbi since I was 21 years old, and I would like to believe that I have devoted my life to a Godly calling. Yet, I have absolutely no compunction in saying that the killing of a terrorist awakens in me not a single pang of conscience. I do not celebrate his demise, nor do I revel in it. We Jews have never rejoiced in the death of even the most wicked of men. Israel has no military parades to celebrate its many victories.
Israel does not fight because it chooses to be a warring nation or because there is glory in war. It fights out of sheer, moral necessity. Human life is precious, and if it does not stop those who wish to take it, Israel thereby unwittingly declare its own contempt for this most precious of all gifts.
Well-meaning people like Steven Spielberg must understand that there are three, rather than two, moral categories: the good, the bad, and the necessary. Killing terrorists is not a necessary evil; it is simply necessary.
Spielberg tries to make the argument that the killings after Munich did not change anything because more people just joined the ranks of the terrorists, just as people say today about Iraq that there will never be an end to the fighting, because whatever terrorists America eliminates, twenty more take their place.
But this is a hollow argument because it overlooks the fact that so many innocent lives are saved when terrorists master-minds are neutralized for an even limited period of time. Their plans are disrupted, and until they regroup, attacks cannot be carried out. The fact that more terrorists later come and kill other innocents does not in any way contradict the fact thousands of lives are saved in the interim.
Just because we still can't cure cancer, today, does not mean that the effort 10 years ago should not have been made. Just because we may never stop terrorism does not give us the moral authority to withdraw from the battle.
The writer, based in the US, is the recipient of the American Jewish Press Association's Award for Excellence in Commentary.