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Choosing Shame Over Honor

IOC president Jacques Rogge with Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad

IOC president Jacques Rogge with Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad
Photo Credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90

Lives can change in 60 seconds, worlds end and new ones begin. Sixty seconds is all it can take sometimes. Sixty seconds where you don’t pay attention on the road as a child runs after a ball; 60 seconds for a couple to become a family as a child is born and placed in his mother’s arms for the first time; 60 seconds when an ill-prepared rescue attempt can turn to disaster and strong men who came in peace can be turned into victims of an ongoing war called terror.

On September 4, 1972, Palestinian terrorists violated the spirit and purpose of the Olympics, bringing violence and death to 11 Israeli athletes. This happened in Munich, in Germany.

To remember, to read about those tragic hours of terror is to read about courage and bravery on the part of the Israelis at they struggled, within themselves, to save their teammates. Those who saw them in the hours before the bungled German rescue attempt, spoke of the dignity of the Israeli athletes. In their deaths, they showed the best of what Israel is and the best of what Israel had brought to the Olympic Games. In dignity, the Israeli team departed after the massacre, and in great shame, the world continued to play as if…as if nothing had happened.

There was no honor among the Palestinian murderers, no honor in gunning down and murdering innocent, unarmed athletes that came to celebrate what was supposed to be the one moment in time the world would join to pursue sports and not war. In their actions, the Palestinians showed the worst of Palestinian society.

Of the German actions, I cannot write. I want to believe their incompetence was not a sign of apathy. I want to believe there was honor in their trying to save the Israelis, the Jews, who had come to German soil to participate in the world games. I want to believe and sometimes I do. I can only imagine their horror that Jews, including at least one Holocaust survivor, had become victims of terror on German soil. I want to feel bad for them but while they may or may not have been responsible for the ultimate failure of the rescue (and the horrendously inadequate security that allowed this to happen in the first place), my heart is too full with sorrow to find compassion for their dismay.

And finally, there was no honor in the cowardice and insensitive actions of the International Olympics Committee – then, and now. They failed – from the start, through the attack, and after. They failed to adequately prepare; they failed during the negotiations. They failed, most dramatically, in recognizing the magnitude of the horror that had played out before their eyes. They failed, and evenworse, lack even the dignity to admit that in their actions, they sanction forgetting or ignoring the results of their failures.

The Palestinian group came to murder, and murder they did. I remember the Munich Olympics, though I was a young girl at the time. I remember waiting for hours hoping the Israelis would be released. Believing that Jews would not die as hostages on German soil. I remember wishing they would let the Israeli army come in and save them but having faith that the Germans could beat terrorists. I was wrong. The German army wasn’t allowed to run the operation – this was done by two politicians and a police officer. Later it was learned that it’s possible some of the hostages were even killed by the German police.

I remember the bungled attempt the Germans made to save the Israelis, of begging to be told that somehow at least one had survived. I remember the joy when we heard the hostages were all safe…and the incredible agony of learning not a single one had survived. I remember the fury when I later read that the “sharpshooters” were not trained professionals but merely men who had shot competitively on weekends. This is what they sent to fight terrorists!

And finally, I remember in the midst of my tears the absolute sense of betrayal and shock to hear that the games would continue, even as Israel pulled into itself to bury its dead.

The rescue was an example of supreme incompetence. I’m not sure that the Germans could have done a worse job if they tried. If you doubt this, read about it here. I struggle today to try to believe that the outcome would have been the same, even if the victims hadn’t been Jews.

On September 6th, before callously resuming the games, the IOC quickly threw together a “memorial” service of sorts – a pathetic attempt to pay lip service to the blood and sacrifice Israel had made. The remaining members of the Israeli team flew home – there was nothing for them in Germany after the massacre. The bodies of the terrorists were given to Libya to a hero’s welcome. Outrage piles on top of outrage. Later, to release the few terrorists the Germans actually managed to capture, Palestinians easily hijacked a plane, made their demands, and Germany quickly crumbled and released them to more celebrations. Outrage piles on top of outrage.

Each time the International Olympics Committee refuses to build a permanent memorial or commemorate in any way the desecration of the Olympics and the murder of the Israelis, I remember the feelings of anger, helplessness and yes, sheer disbelief.

And yet again…the IOC has shamed the Olympics – this time by refusing sixty seconds of silence in memory of the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre. These are sixty seconds they will not give to the memory of athletes who died believing the IOC and others would adequately see to their security (Israel was forced to accept German and IOC assurances when they raised their concerns in advance of the Olympics in 1972).

In 1976, the Israeli team came to the Olympics with a black ribbon tied around the Israeli flag during the opening ceremony. I hope this year, the Israeli team will do the same. But more, I hope other countries will do this as well.

Peace and sports cannot be advanced by ignoring the terror, the anger, the hatred, and the murder aimed at those Israeli athletes. Sixty seconds can be used to pay tribute…or they can be ignored as yet another dose of outrage.

If you are attending the Olympics – please tie a black ribbon on your arm. Almost 90,000 people have signed a petition asking for those 60 seconds. The petition, though I signed it, is meaningless because the IOC continues to refuse this request and in their refusal, they do honor not to the Munich 11, not to our Israeli athletes who trusted the IOC with their lives, but rather, the IOC does honor to the terrorists who violated the Olympics and forever draped the games with the blood of the innocent.

The honor and dignity, if there can be any, goes to the Israeli athletes and to Israel itself; the shame and disgust goes to the Olympic committee. And the 60 seconds of silence – it will be observed in my home as I light a memorial candle and let it burn; for the victims and for the games themselves that have been forever tarnished. For 60 seconds, the athletes and audience and around the world, 60 seconds of silence could have been a show of triumph over terror, of honor in brotherhood and peace – instead, they will remain, 40 years late and beyond, an endless mark of shame.

About the Author: Visit Paula Stern's blog, A Soldier's Mother.


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