Olympic silence

The Munich massacre should be commemorated not primarily as an Israeli tragedy, but as a tragedy “within the family of nations,” as Ayalon noted.

2012 London Olympics logo. (photo credit: Reuters)
2012 London Olympics logo.
(photo credit: Reuters)
On September 5, 1972, eight Palestinian terrorists dressed in training suits and carrying duffle bags with rifles and handguns broke into a dormitory at the Olympic village in Munich, with the unwitting help of American athletes. Using stolen keys, they found their way into the dormitory where Israeli athletes and coaches were sleeping and took them hostage.
In a struggle that left one of the terrorists beaten and unconscious, two of the Israelis were shot and killed. Using the remaining nine hostages, the kidnappers tried to scare Israel into releasing 200 Palestinian terrorists. Israel refused to negotiate, and a standoff ensued for some 20 hours.
In a botched attempt by German security authorities to free the Israelis, all the hostages were killed.
The horror of that murderous act was amplified by the fact that the terrorists ruthlessly exploited an atmosphere of mutual brotherhood and peace among the nations that is at the heart of the Olympic Games.
The world is now preparing for another Olympics. Israeli officials and two members of the US Congress, acting on behalf of two widows of Munich murder victims, made a simple and human request: that when the nations of the world descend on London in July, the athletes and the cheering crowds pause for a minute of silence.
Just for a minute.
But the International Olympic Committee said no.
The decision was not surprising. The IOC has callously rejected previous requests made by Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andrei Spitzer, and Ilana Romano, widow of weightlifter Yossef Romano.
Nevertheless, there was hope that this time it would be different. This year marks a particularly opportune time to right past wrongs: It is the 40th anniversary of the massacre.
And this time, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon issued an official request to the IOC’s president Jacques Rogge. Ayalon’s missive was joined by the letters of two members of the US Congress, Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, Democrats from New York. But it was not to be.
In his response to Ayalon sent last week, Rogge rejected the request. But he did say he planned to attend a reception at London’s Guildhall hosted by the Olympic Committee of Israel in memory of the victims.
“We strongly sympathize with the victims’ families and understand their lasting pain,” Rogge said in his letter, adding: “What happened in Munich in 1972 strengthened the determination of the Olympic Movement to contribute more than ever to building a peaceful and better world by educating young people through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit.
“Rest assured that, within the Olympic family, the memory of the victims of the terrible massacre in Munich in 1972 will never fade away.”
While it may or may not be true that the memory of the Munich 11 will remain vivid “within the Olympic family,” observing a minute of silence at the upcoming Olympic Games and in the ones to follow would go a long way toward making sure that they will continue to be remembered outside “the Olympic family” as well.
In any event, a moment of silence does not seem to be too much to ask, especially considering the brutality of the murders and the fact that the victims were killed not on the streets of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv but rather inside the Olympic village as participants in the Games. The Munich massacre should be commemorated not primarily as an Israeli tragedy, but as a tragedy “within the family of nations,” as Ayalon noted.
Rogge missed an opportunity and clinched a gold for insensitivity. But his failure should not in any way diminish the the legacy of the Munich 11.