After so many acts of horror, it still stands as one of the most horrible. The Olympics — a symbol of international cooperation, young men and women from around the world joined together by the pursuit of excellence — succumbing to the politics of hatred and terror. For those who cannot remember, I’m referring to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s brutal attack and murder of Israeli athletes in their quarters and later in a failed hostage attempt. I’ve seen the movies, seen the television coverage and read the stories. I’ve also read every book (true and fictionalized) about the Israeli operation that followed to avenge the killings. I thought I knew it all.
None of us did. The story is coming out, only now, 40-something years later. I tell it now because it reminds us of what it means to be an Israeli, of what regular people like you and me have lived with, of the reality of terror.
The untold story is that not only did the athletes all die but also, before and after their deaths, they were tortured and brutalized. One man was castrated. The other nine men were tied up and forced to watch as the attackers cut off his genitals. His widow was shown the pictures in 1992, three days before her daughter was to be married, and after seeing them she, along with the other widow who served as a representative of the victims’ families, chose not to make any of it public until now.
They have spoken out, giving interviews for a forthcoming documentary and to The New York Times, because they want their husbands to be remembered as the heroes they were, the strongest, most determined, most cherished of young men. They were symbols of their country’s best, and for that they were killed and brutalized.
Imagine if such a thing were to happen to an American team.
In Israel, such things happen with a frequency that we would find intolerable. Every family has lost someone, or has a relative or friend who has lost a child or a brother. The latest news is that Palestinian girls are (whether because they want to or because they are being used or both) increasingly traveling in packs and attacking young Jewish men. Why? Because they are Jewish men. This is what life is like when your neighbors are determined to wipe you off the face of the globe.
But what of the Palestinians? What of all their unremembered heroes, their lost sons and daughters, the fear and terror with which they live? A Palestinian friend once described her daughter’s joy and wonder, while living for a brief time in the United States, at how you could just get on a bus and go to the mall and never worry about whether you’d come home alive. Imagine that.
All sides suffer in a war of terror. But there is simply no moral equivalence here. When Israelis commit acts of terror against innocent Palestinians, as when Jewish teens killed a Palestinian youth in 2014, they are prosecuted and punished by their government. When Palestinians do the same, they are celebrated as heroes.
Israel has courts that hold both people and politicians accountable. I don’t pretend to agree with every decision made by the current government; were I Israeli, I am quite sure I would not belong to the prime minister’s party. But we don’t sit in judgment about another country’s internal politics. Israel’s government is not committed to wiping Palestinians from the face of the earth. Palestine’s leadership is committed to wiping Israelis from the face of the earth, however.
It is not just the horror of the newly released accounts from Munich that touch my heart. It is the fact that these men could have been forgotten amongst the horrors that have been visited on Israelis, and it is only by revealing horrors beyond belief that their families can hope to bring attention to their ultimate sacrifice, one that has been made by far too many.