Fifty years ago today, on September 5, 1972, eight terrorists from the PLO’s Black September group infiltrated the poorly guarded Olympic Village in Munich, broke into an apartment housing Israeli athletes, and took 11 of them hostage. While the Games were suspended for a day, the hostages were tortured and abused by their Palestinian captors. Two Israelis were murdered at the village and nine more (and a German policeman) died during the bungled German rescue attempt the following day. Five of the eight terrorists were also killed. Compounding the atrocity, the surviving three terrorists were released shortly afterward in exchange for hostages on a hijacked Lufthansa plane.
The attack, now known as the Munich Massacre, was a travesty. West Germany, hosting the Olympics for the first time since the infamous Berlin Games of 1936 in the shadow of Hitler’s ascending Nazism, had wanted to make a good impression on the world. All eyes were on Munich for the 1972 Olympics and this is exactly what the Palestinian terrorists exploited.
The picture of the masked terrorist stepping out onto the balcony of the apartment where the Israelis were being held has become iconic. The world watched the hostage crisis as if it were a reality show. It was a classic case of what is now called the Theater of Terror.
Shockingly, despite the carnage, the Games went on. Only at the Tokyo Olympics last year did the International Olympic Committee at last agree to hold a minute’s silence at the opening ceremony for the Israelis slain in 1972.
The Munich Massacre was a ghastly reminder of the worst side of mixing sports and politics. The attack was the antithesis of the famed supposed Olympic spirit. The Black September movement hijacked the games to put the Palestinian cause on the world map. It changed the world forever. The need for the security that is now required at every high-profile sporting or entertainment event can be traced back to Munich 1972. A dotted line connects the Munich Massacre to the more recent attacks by al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
The world thought that terrorism against Israelis and Jews would remain at that, but that is not the way terrorism works. Germany, of all places, knows that what starts with attacks on the Jews does not end there.
On Sunday, President Isaac Herzog and his wife, Michal, began a state visit to the Federal Republic of Germany at the invitation of President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. They are scheduled to participate in the 50th anniversary memorial for the murdered athletes together with the victims’ families, Germany’s top leadership, and officials from the Olympic Committee of Israel.
What about the murdered victims' relatives?
Relatives of the murdered victims had threatened to stay away from today’s memorial as part of a campaign for an official German apology and additional compensation to the families. In 2002, Germany agreed to $4.5 million in compensation. Last week, embarrassed by the possible boycott of the memorial by the families, it agreed to pay $28 million. The families have long sought the compensation as part of an acknowledgment that German authorities were at fault for failing to protect the Israeli team, despite warnings, and for the botched rescue.
Over the years, there have been different, ongoing signs of Israel’s enemies using sports to attack or delegitimize the Jewish state. Last month, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, when asked by a reporter at the German Chancellery in Berlin whether he would apologize for the Munich Massacre – with which he had financial ties – launched instead into a tirade against Israel, accusing it of committing “50 holocausts.”
Shamefully, from time to time competitors from Iran and other Muslim countries have refused to face Israeli opponents. This is not only bad sportsmanship; it is bad news for the world as a whole.
During his visit, Herzog will address the German Bundestag, and promised to speak about “major issues on the agenda, including the Iranian nuclear program.”
Nothing will bring the 11 murdered members of the Israeli Olympic team back to life and nothing can ever truly compensate the families for their loss, but we welcome the fact that the German authorities and Olympic officials finally acknowledge the tragedy. Fifty years on, it is important not only to acknowledge the Munich Massacre, but to learn from it.