The Munich Hostage Crisis
During the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, eleven members of the Israeli Olympics team were taken hostage by a Palestinian military organization known as Black September. The event was highly publicized and in the end, there were seventeen deaths to come out of the attacks: eleven Israeli athletes, five terrorists and one German policeman were killed as a result of the incident. World event and terrorism specialist Simon Reeve asserts that the Munich Massacre is “one of the most significant incidents of recent times,” and that it “thrust the Palestinian cause into the world spotlight, set the tone for decades of conflict in the Middle East, and launched a new era of international terrorism.”
The Black September Organization (BSO) was founded in 1970 as a militant Palestinian resistance movement, and its most notorious act was that of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre. The organization is named after the conflict that was known as “Black September.” This conflict took place in 1970, when King Hussein of Jordan tried to destroy all Palestinian organizations that were trying to overthrow his monarchy. The violence exacted by King Hussein resulted in many Palestinian casualties and lasted for almost a year, with thousands of PLO members and Palestinians being forced into Lebanon. The conflict of “Black September” is also known by some Palestinians as the “era of regrettable events.”
There is much dispute over the nature of the Black September Organization and whether it was controlled by the Fatah, whish was a faction of the PLO that was controlled (at the time of the Munich attacks) by Yasser Arafat. Some Palestinians believe that Black September was not a terrorist organization, but merely a military faction of the resistance movement. According to other reports, however, the members of the Black September Organization always denied any affiliations with the Fatah or the PLO. Some Palestinians insists that Black September had absolutely no connections to the PLO or Fatah whatsoever. In 1981, a document was released by the United States State Department which all but confirmed that Black September was, in fact, a smaller branch of the PLO controlled by the Fatah.
It was actually organized similarly to Israel’s “Operation Wrath of God” and “Operation Spring of Youth,” being that many small, separate groups of terrorists were working towards the same goal, but without any knowledge of the other functioning groups. By doing this, and by having no central leadership, the separate groups were not in danger of one another and did not have to fear that any one group could give away information about another group. This covertness makes it difficult to actually trace the origins of the group, though they were almost positively a creation of the Fatah. Black September was formed secretly so as to appease the more moderate Fatah members who were in favor of only peaceful actions.
In 1973, the PLO shut down all Black September missions on the basis that terrorism abroad would not help the cause of a free Palestine.
Operations Wrath of God and Spring of Youth
Operations Wrath of God and Spring of Youth were preformed in retaliation to the Munich hostage crisis. The operations were ordered by Israel’s Prime Minister, Golda Meir, who ordered the Mossad to assassinate those Palestinians (especially members of the PLO and suspected members of Black September) who were known to have been involved in the Munich killings. The Mossad is Israel’s intelligence agency. It can be likened to the CIA in the United States or MI6 in the United Kingdom. The Mossad is in charge of collecting intelligence, countering terrorism and heading covert operations, such as Operations Wrath of God and Spring of Youth.
Almost immediately after the Munich attacks, Golda Meir created “Committee X,” which was a small group of government officials who were in charge of responding to the Palestinian attacks. In the group were Golda herself, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, General Aharon Yariv and Zvi Zamir, who was the director of the Mossad at the time. They formed the group with the underlying belief that in order to deter any future possible terrorist attacks on Israel, the Israelis would have to destroy any people connected with the Munich attacks and Palestinian terrorism.
Operation Wrath of God began shortly after the Munich massacre and may have continued for almost twenty years. Over the course of this time, the Mossad executed Black September and PLO members all across Europe in covert operations. Like Black September, these secret assassin groups operated in separate cells so as to keep their organization and members as secret as possible. Operation Spring of Youth, which is also featured in the movie Munich, occurred on April 10, 1973, when Israeli special defense forces attacked PLO targets in Beirut, Lebanon. The attacks on Black September and PLO members spurred more attacks on Israeli government officials over the course of the years that the assassinations were taking place.
Interview with Mike Pramik (Palestinian) on Palestine, the Munich Hostage Crisis and Its Aftermath
Were you born in Palestine?
No. My mother was Palestinian and she immigrated to the United States in 1955. My father is American and I was born in the United States.
Have you ever been to Palestine?
Yes. I visited Palestine in 1998.
What was your reaction to the visit?
I had heard about Palestine all my life from my mother, so I really looked forward to visiting it. She died in 1990, but her sister still lives there today. It was an interesting and educating experience, and I was very eager to see the land where my ancestors came from.
When you visited Palestine, did you feel a sense of “going home”?
It was incredibly moving to experience the place where my mother grew up, but I must say that it was far too foreign for me to feel like home. If you’ve been to Europe or wherever your ancestors come from, you feel a sense of pride in the land, definitely, but you’d probably still identify home as the place where you grew up.
While you visited Palestine, did you experience any of the conflict first-hand?
It was alarming to be checked at the borders and see the amounts of military people who are everywhere in the area. Other than that, there were no bombs or attacks or anything when I visited.
Do you remember the Munich crisis? If so, what was your reaction to the crisis at the time?
I was only fourteen when the hostage attacks occurred, but I remember both of my parents being very upset by the attacks. They are both extremely peaceful people and are very much opposed to terrorism. They immediately worried what kind of repercussions the attacks would bring upon our family here and in Palestine.
(This reaction surprised me a little bit, because the movie portrays Palestinians as feeling victorious about it. It reminded me of in high school on September 11th, one of my teachers was Iranian and one was an Iraqi, and they both started crying when they heard about the attacks.)
Looking back, how do you react to the crisis now?
I think it’s really sad that Palestinians felt and still feel that they have to resort to terrorism in order to be noticed on an international scale. The living situation is terrible for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and their side of the story is almost never portrayed in Western news. I can understand why Palestinians would feel so desperate as to carry out such acts of terror, and if we want the terrorism to stop, maybe we should try to take into consideration their point of view as well as that of the Israelis’.
Did your family personally suffer any repercussions from the Munich attacks?
Not really, here in the United States My mother was fairly light-skinned and could have passed as an Italian, and we have my father’s Hungarian last name, so unless people specifically knew that my mother was a Palestinian and that my sister and I were half-Palestinian, there would have been no way for people to express racism or hatred towards us. The Munich attacks definitely brought the Palestinian crisis to greater light internationally, and in that way I think we all have been affected.
How do you feel about Operations Wrath of God and Spring of Youth?
They were acts of war and terror, in the same way that the Munich attack was an act of war and terror. I can hardly blame the Israelis for wanting revenge on the Palestinian terrorists. It’s terrible that both sides constantly feel like they need to exact revenge on one another, and it makes you wonder how long the fighting will continue if no one is willing to back down.
Do you see any possible end to the conflict between Israel and Palestine?
It’s no longer a matter of one group of people that belongs there and one that doesn’t. There are Palestinians who live there now who have lived their all their lives who consider that land to be home, and there are Israelis who have lived their all their lives who consider that land to be home. What they need to work on now is how they are going to live together. They need to accept that they both belong to that land and no amount of hatred is going to change that.
(This response reminded me of Wild Thorns. In the end, Adil leaves behind his father’s kidney machine and in doing so, it’s as though he’s leaving behind an old way of life and embracing a new era.)
Interview with Aubrey Smith (Jewish) on the Israel / Palestinian Conflict and the Munich Attacks and Aftermath
Though you are an American, have you ever been to Israel?
Yes. My family lived in Israel for a year when I was a freshman in high school.
What did you learn about the conflict from your experience in Israel?
I didn’t know anything about the conflict between Israel and Palestine before I went there, and I feel like most Americans our age really have no idea what’s going on over there. I feel much less ignorant of the situation since I have lived there and experienced it first hand.
What do you think about the Munich massacre?
It’s really horrifying. Just watching the movie and reading the reports that you gave me about it made me feel sick. Even though it’s not on as large a scale, it reminded me of the fear I felt on September 11th. Terrorism is terrorism, no matter how many people are killed. I think that if people our age in the U.S. want to relate to the situation in Israel, then they need to think about how they felt on September 11th.
Do you think that Operations Wrath of God and Spring of Youth were justified?
No. And yes. It’s a really difficult question to answer.
I believe that peace is the only right solution to these problems, but at the same time, it’s hard not to want to retaliate when terror and pain are inflicted upon us. Just look how the United States has reacted to September 11th. I’m not saying it’s wrong or it’s right to want to get revenge, but I think that if there is to be any kind of lasting peace, then we can’t just keep killing each other over and over again, or it will absolutely never end. Someone has to step up and be the bigger person and say “okay, this is enough.”
I will say that while the Munich attacks were preformed on innocent athletes, at least the Israeli Operations were done to individuals who were directly involved in the original attacks.
So do you think that terrorism is justified if it is exacted upon other people with military or terrorist connections?
No. I don’t really think that any kind of violence is justified. It just brings about more pain and suffering. I think that killing is terrible, and that killing innocent civilians is even worse. I understand that people will act desperately when they are afraid or provoked, but sooner or later someone is going to have to decide not to retaliate.
How do you think a resolution to the problems in Israel and Palestine will come about?
Youth. I have a lot of hope for our generation and our children’s generation. I think right now, there is still too much hatred among the current Israeli and Palestinian administrations, and basically we just need to grow out of that hatred.
After researching the Munich crisis and interviewing an Israeli and a Palestinian, I would have to say that my only answer to the problem is peace. I agree with Mike in that the land now belongs to both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and I agree with Aubrey in that eventually, one side is going to have to step up and say “enough,” rather than constantly revisiting violence on one another.