1. The Age article by a Palestinian. 2. Letter to the Ed. in reply by MaryWerther.
3. Link to a debate about it on FrontPage Magazine. 4. My comments after seeing it.
1.Melbourne, " The Age".
» Opinion » Article
Remembering the Munich massacre, a lesson for us all
By Maher Mughrabi
January 18, 2006
Steven Spielberg's Munich opens on Australia Day, but already I feel as if I am watching it everywhere. My last cinema trip was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which began with an imaginary international sporting event disrupted by terror. As the Death Eaters marched through the Quidditch World Cup, all I could see was grainy 1970s footage of masked men: Palestinians, like me.
In these post-September 11 days, every major sporting event - from Melbourne's Commonwealth Games to the coming World Cup in Germany - lives under this shadow. High above the soccer crowds in the northern summer, it won't just be blimps bearing cameras; AWACS surveillance aircraft will be on patrol.
Sitting in the cinema, I thought: we are the ones who violated the Olympic truce. I know that the Soviets were rolling tanks into Afghanistan at the same time as they hosted the Moscow Games in 1980, and there must be a host of other cases where war went on while athletes played. I was not even born when the Munich Games were held. None of this affects the way I feel about what happened there: it was a disgrace, to me and my people.
How does one address such disgrace? Until recently, Australians were caught up in this question of the violence of their history, much of it violence and cruelty against Aborigines. A big part of John Howard's ambition to make Australians "relaxed and comfortable" was to end any agonising over the national past, what he once called "the black armband view of history".
Watching the Australian cricket team after Kerry Packer's death, it struck me that black armbands aren't about shame, or a lack of relaxation. They are, as we all know but perhaps don't always realise, a sign of mature and dignified acknowledgement of what has happened. Whether or not you think Packer is worthy of such acknowledgement is another matter. What matters is that nations can and do choose to look back in this way all the time.
This is a far cry, I think, from what Howard thinks saying sorry or acknowledging past injustices would mean. He sees it in legalistic terms, as an admission of fault or liability, and not in terms of mutual recognition. Perhaps he believes that such violence is part and parcel of the establishment of nations everywhere, and that is probably true. But we should never allow that truth to be reduced to "you have to break some eggs to make an omelet"; we should always face up to it and admit it is part of us.
Spielberg turned down the offer to make Munich a number of times. He knew the criticisms the film was likely to attract before any screening: it humanises Palestinian terrorists, or humanises Israeli assassins, or makes the two equivalent. Before the film was released anywhere, he showed it to Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, widows of two of the slain Israeli athletes.
Ilana Romano emerged from the film satisfied that it did not dishonour the memory of her husband and his teammates. She also felt Israel's reputation was protected. "Had Spielberg wanted to harm Israel's image, he would have included the Lillehammer affair," she added.
Yet here again there is a problem, for it would not be "unfair" or "biased against Israel" to include the Lillehammer affair; it is something that actually happened. In July 1973, Israel sent a death squad to that Norwegian town to assassinate a man they believed to be a Palestinian terrorist. Walking home from the cinema with his pregnant Norwegian wife, he was shot repeatedly. Yet Ahmed Bouchiki turned out to be an innocent Moroccan waiter.
After 23 years of denying liability, the Israeli government finally compensated Bouchiki's widow Torill. But liability and responsibility are not the same things. Israel still assassinates people in this way, and the deaths of innocents continue.
It is tempting to respond to such facts by pointing to intention - something those responsible for Munich have tried to do - or by pointing outwards and saying that "they (Palestinians, Israelis) left us with no choice". These arguments are the ones that should really make us hang our heads.
Palestine as a nation doesn't exist, yet these days there is a team competing on its behalf in Olympic Games. Against the odds, it has even won a medal. Most of its athletes are younger than I, that much further removed from Munich.
But I don't dream of silver or gold; I dream of our athletes and officials having the nerve to make some acknowledgement of Moshe Weinberg, Yossef Romano, Yossef Gutfreund, David Berger, Mark Slavin, Yacov Springer, Zeev Friedman, Amitzur Shapira, Eliezer Halfin, Kehat Shorr and Andre Spitzer for the whole world to see.
Perhaps it is too much to hope that such a gesture might be reciprocated and not exploited, not seen as an admission of liability. But any other path to "relaxation and comfort" is surely a sham, for all of us.
Maher Mughrabi is a staff writer.
2. LETTER TO THE EDITOR in reply.
IT IS admirable that Maher Mughrabi, in his imaginary "mea culpa", wishes for the Palestinians to be mature enough to officially repent for their massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.
However, in trying to relate this to Australia's acknowledgement of past errors, he is sorely mistaken. That particular act of Palestinian terrorism was not some isolated event or aberrant time in history but was part of a constant, daily policy of Arab attacks on Israel and its citizens that continues to this day. Most attacks are thwarted, and we only hear about the devastation when one slips through.
True maturity would be when Palestinian society stops brainwashing young students to aspire to violence and martyrdom, and stops naming schools and sporting clubs in honour of suicide bombers. Inclusion of Israel in Palestinian maps of the region would also be a mature move.
The most important sign of Palestinian maturity would be a determination to build up a law-abiding civil society in their own areas, which they now control, rather than wasting lives and a huge amount of donated funds in attempting to destroy Israel.
Mary Werther, Camberwell
A debate about the film "Munich" is featured here:
4. My reaction re the film.
AfterI saw the film, my initial reaction was:
I don't know what all the criticism is about from the point of view of Israelis. The real footage is graphic and horrifying enough; the Israeli Jewish avengers show all the emotions that we would expect from people with a conscience; they say "never again",- never again will Jews be killed with impunity. The fanatical Palestinians briefly featured in an unlikely scenario where they actually meet with them and there is some dialogue with the Israelis, they show their callousness and fanaticism.-
But the targeted terrorists, after their cowardly release from jail by the Germans under blackmail,- are shown as having returned to a normal life by the time the assassins caught up with them. Care is taken not to hurt innocent members of their families, or their neighbours. It was difficult to work out who their source of information was,- the whole makes for mystery and thrill,- a good fictional thriller based on some true facts but it's all fiction.
I don't think that Spielberg could possibly make a commercial film based solely on the Israeli and Jewish point of view. If any of the modern Israeli film-makers would have produced this film, it would probaly be very similar. I saw one which was in fact similar, - an Israeli thriller dealing with a Mossadnik sent to kill an old Nazi war-criminal but in the end he couldn't face killing this old man. He was killed not by the Israeli but by his own German grandson!In both films, the Jewish assassin goes home to his wife and baby and says "I've had enough"!
Whether Leunig who is against "targeted killings" or Spielberg against "revenge killings", or those who don't believe in "an eye for an eye"- the final word goes to "Golda Meir" who says "every civilization has to negotiate compromises with its own values". As one reviewer put it: "the film asks how does one bring order to a violent land without using the same methods as the enemy."