From the Olympic village to global jihad

It was the first time an international event was hijacked by terrorists. It was not the last.

A DEPICTION of the Munich Massacre memorial at Olympic Park in Bavaria to honor of the 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and the German police officer killed in a terrorist attack during the 1972 Games. (photo credit: BRÜCKNER & BRÜCKNER)
A DEPICTION of the Munich Massacre memorial at Olympic Park in Bavaria to honor of the 11 Israeli athletes, coaches and the German police officer killed in a terrorist attack during the 1972 Games.
(photo credit: BRÜCKNER & BRÜCKNER)
A German journalist contacted me last week to ask about a poster he remembered from a period several years ago when he was an intern at The Jerusalem Post. The poster was the front page of the paper from September 6, 1972. It carried a joyous headline. It was horribly wrong.
“Hostages in Munich rescued” proclaimed the large letters at the top of the page. “All safe after Germans trap Arabs at military airport.”
“West German Government spokesman Konrad Ahlers announced after midnight last night that all nine Israeli hostages were safe. Three of the terrorists were killed. One blew himself up with a hand-grenade, several were wounded and one was being hunted. One German policeman was killed.”
By the time the paper hit the newsstands, it was out of date. Far from being safe, the nine hostages had been killed at the airfield during a botched German rescue attempt. Their bodies were flown to Israel in flag-draped coffins along with the (tortured and mutilated) bodies of the two athletes killed in the Olympic village.
The Games went on, but the world was never the same.
It was the first time an international event was hijacked by terrorists. It was not the last. The need for massive security today at everything from sporting events to concerts can be traced back directly to Munich, September 1972, by those who are willing to join the dots.
The Munich massacre changed my life.
When the 11 athletes were so brutally slain in Germany, I lost my childhood innocence, but their deaths set me on the path that brought me to Israel, which I have called home all my adult life.
In the summer of September ’72 I was 11 and in love, or at least infatuated. A keen competitive swimmer, I idolized Mark Spitz as only a pre-teen can. Every gold medal he won, all seven of them, added to my adoration. His image staring down on me from the poster on the wall of my bedroom in London seemed to grow more handsome with every success.
When the news of the hostage situation broke, I was concerned not only about the famous Jewish American swimmer. I was worried about a member of my own swimming club who was representing the UK at the Games. I soon learned that she was safe but that Spitz had been whisked away from the Olympic Village. My mother explained that as a Jew he might have been a target too.
That was the first time I truly understood that Israel wasn’t just a place name in my prayer book and that the fate of the Jews and Israelis were intertwined.
The Munich Olympics were meant to cement the image of a new, modern (West) Germany in a better, post-World War II era: a time when the sporting spirit of the Olympics and Brotherhood of Man would prevail. Instead, it became another stain in history. More Jewish blood spilled on German ground.
The world did not know what to do with the dead Jews. It waited one day and then while Israel buried its dead, the philosophy that “the Games must go on” won and the Olympics continued.
As I wrote in 2008, “Israel has never exactly excelled at the Olympics. One wonders what would have happened if an entire cadre of sportsmen hadn’t been slain at Munich. Unfortunately, Jews often look at past events in Germany and wonder: What if?”
PLO head Yasser Arafat was a big winner of the Olympics that year. The Palestinians were placed on the map – erasing Israel in the process. Notice that in the coverage of the massacre, the terrorists were referred to as “Arabs.” The Palestinian identity was born out of terrorist attacks such as this.
Over the years, Black September of 1972 became September 11, 2001, and then the black flag of ISIS was raised. The struggle against the Zionists and Jews turned into global jihad, in which nowhere is safe, not concert halls in Manchester or Paris, or tourist attractions in London or Spain, not trains or buses or airports.
Incredibly, terrorists such as Leila Khaled, who boasts of being the first woman hijacker, are still feted at events in places ranging from South Africa to Germany and even a literary festival in May in Barcelona, three months before La Rambla became a site on the terrorist map, and not only the tourists’ map.
And, as The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal reported last week, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has been designated by the EU and US as a terrorist organization, is running on a joint list with the Marxist-Leninist Party in the upcoming German election. The German Interior Ministry refused to bar it from campaigning for the Bundestag.
In 2001, the PFLP accepted responsibility for the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi and in November 2014 it took credit for the attack on worshipers at a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood, resulting in the deaths of five prayer-goers and a policeman. This week Weinthal reported that the PFLP blasted Israeli media and politicians for criticizing its participation in the election.
Today, the far Left in Germany (and elsewhere) is boosting its ranks with terrorists, but they are not the only ones with such despicable ties. In May, Weinthal noted that “Stronger alliances are growing between the German neo-Nazi party Der Dritte Weg and the Assad regime, as well as with the Syrian dictator’s strategic partner Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“The website of the Der Dritte Weg (The Third Way) published an April 30 report on the right-wing extremist group’s visit to Lebanon to champion Hezbollah’s war against Israel.”
In the German political world, the antisemitism of the far Left and the far Right is strong enough to unite them in a radically dangerous alliance.
This week, 45 years after the massacre, a memorial was unveiled in the former Olympic village in Munich. It records the names and personal mementos of each of the 11 Israeli sportsmen and the policeman killed in the attack.
The inauguration was held in the presence of President Reuven Rivlin, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Minister-President of Bavaria Horst Seehofer, who initiated the event.
“Forty-five years after the massacre, international terrorism continues to threaten and strike innocent civilians. There are still those who see the massacre of the sportsmen as a heroic act,” said Rivlin before departing for Germany. “The center which we will inaugurate must carry a message for the whole world: There can be no apologizing for terror. Terror must be condemned unequivocally, everywhere. In Barcelona, in London, in Paris, in Berlin, in Jerusalem, everywhere.”
“We wanted to give the victims their identity back in the eyes of the public,” Bavarian Minister of Culture Ludwig Spaenle explained on Monday.
The sportsmen killed for being Israelis, for being Jews, were Yossef Romano, Andre Spitzer, Moshe Weinberg, Ze’ev Friedman, David Berger, Yakov Springer, Eliezer Halfin, Yossef Gutfreund, Kehat Shorr, Mark Slavin and Amitzur Shapira. Each was an individual, a whole world. Collectively they are known in Hebrew as “Ha-yud alef,” “The Eleven.”
The world forgets them at its peril.
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