The 1972 Munich Olympics

The protracted war between Israel and the Palestine can be described as complex. In this conflict, both sides have deep seated notions they believe and stand by. The Palestinians believe they entitled to a land they refer to as Palestine while the Israelis claim ownership to the same land and refer to it as Israel. Both factions lay claim to the same land and go ahead to call it their own name[1]. This conflict also carries with it a religious twist with both sides being firm believers.

While the Palestinians worship ‘Allah’, the Israelis believe in Jehovah. According to the Bible, which the Israelis refer to as their Holy book, Jehovah gave them that land and relinquishing it to another group of people would be sinful and an insult to God. In the decades old war, there has been war, death and acts of terrorism that have served to fuel the hate the two groups have for each other. None of the groups so far appears ready to give in to their opponent.

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To understand the dynamics of this conflict, one must take an in depth look at the history of this conflict. In the beginning, ancient Jews (Hebrews) from the Biblical era called this land Canaan which was also known as ‘the promised land’. Jews and a cross section of Christians believe that God gave this land to his chosen people, (the Hebrews) who at that time were led by men like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David and others.

More than two thousand years ago, this land was under the rule of the Roman Empire. In a bid to quell Jewish rebellions that kept coming up, the Romans brought down the Jewish place of worship that had been put up in Jerusalem killing and maiming a large number of Hebrews in the process. Many others were forced to relocate from their homes in an exodus that was later to be called ‘the Diaspora’. A small number braved the conflict and chose to stay, but a majority did not come back till after the 19th Century.

This marked the real Genesis of the woes between Israelis who were formally known as the Jews in their ancient home land, and the Palestinians who were the Arab population residing in that area. In fact the name ‘Palestinians’, was coined from the ancient Greek and Roman name for that area. In the period of two thousand years, a majority of the Jewish population had either been eliminated or forced to move elsewhere by the Romans[2].

Due to these events, Arabic speaking Muslims turned out to be the main ethnic group living in that area. According to the Ottoman Empire’s records, a whopping 94% of the residents were Arabs. Some of these Arabs did not have any qualms about selling land t the Jews who were coming back. However, a number of Palestinian Arabs had concerns about this move since they feared it would render them a minority group in the country they had always regarded to be their own one.

The year 1930 saw the occurrence of the Great Arab Revolt that was targeted against the British who had been controlling and ruling Palestine since 1918. While it was aimed at the British, the Jewish population also bore the brunt of the attacks.

It is worth pointing out that even though a large number of Jews relocated to Palestine in the 1940s, the movement known as Zionism did not begin until the late 1800s. It influenced a very big number of Jews from different locations of the world to return to Palestine and reclaim their home land, Israel. By early 1930s, the Jewish population had grown in leaps and bounds to a point that it threatened the Palestinian Arab leadership.

With assistance of the British, the revolt was put down by Jewish militia groups. The hostility and fighting between the Arabs and Jews never really stopped[3]. From that time onwards, both Palestinians and Jews created military unit and militias to attack each other while preparing for the departure of the British.

The British left in the year 1948 and the autonomy of the new state of Israel was declared by the Jews in Palestine. This sparked an invasion by the neighboring Arabic states in an effort to assist Palestinian Arabs fight to create a new nation of their own.

The Arabs were defeated in that war and this saw hundreds of thousands of them escaping from the new state of Israel to live as refugees in close to them Arabic speaking states until such a day when they could go back to their home land. This defeat and subsequent exile of the Palestinian Arabs came to be known as ‘the Cataclysm’ or ‘al Nakba’ in Arabic.

Two important parts of ancient Palestine were not incorporated to the New Israel; the West Bank and a small crammed coastal area of land around a city called Gaza, which is today referred to as the Gaza Strip. The West Bank is a part of the ancient Palestine located on the Western side f River Jordan. The Arabian nation of Jordan is on the Eastern Side of the bank of the river.

At the end of the war, in the year 1949, Egypt occupied the Gaza Strip and Jordan took over the West Bank. Palestinians carried out cross border raids inside the Israel territory with help from Syria, Egypt and Jordan in the years between 1950 and 1960. The Israeli military often carried out retaliatory attacks mostly at the borders especially in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

This conflict scaled to new heights in December of 1964 when al Fatah, a Palestinian based military and political group, raided Israel from Lebanon in an attempt to capture Palestinian land from Israel. The group was created in the late 1950s and was led by Yasser Arafat in June 1964 into joining the Palestinian Liberation Organization also known as PLO[4].

After its creation, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, guerilla and terror operative groups began series of well planned and coordinated attacks on Israel and Israeli targets all over the world. Israel’s responses involved commando raids, full blown incursions of states like Lebanon that aided PLO, and assassinations of PLO operatives and leaders all over the world. The Black September, a paramilitary faction came into being in the year 1970.

The group’s name originated from a conflict that started in the month of September in the year 1970. It came up after the Jordanian King, Hussein, imposed military rule as a response to an attempt by Palestinians to overthrow his rule and seize his kingdom. Consequently; thousands of Palestinians were expelled from Jordan eliciting anger and resentment.

The Black September Organization started out as a small group of Fatah men seeking revenge on King Hussein and his army. People from other groups like the PFLP to form a large cell. At the beginning, a majority of the group members were rebels within Fatah and had had close ties with Abu Ali Iyad who was at the time the commander of Fatah’s forces. A number of these forces were fighting the Jordanian army in the northern part of the country.

This section of the army was responsible for the killing of Abu Ali Iyad in July of 1971with the Prime Minister of Jordan at that time, Wasfi al Tal overseeing his torture[5]. Initially, the BSO was not a terrorist group but an auxiliary sect of the resistance movement. When it was unable to achieve its goals in a non violent way, they shifted their tactics from political to military.

The clash between the BSO and the government of Jordan was mainly fuelled by the struggle for authority and power. In fact, the group had openly asked for an agreement that would provide for sharing of power in Jordan.

A conflict ensued due to the terms of the proposed agreement due to clauses pushing for complete autonomy. Even though the Palestinians were struggling as a homeless people trying to get a homeland, demanding for power in a foreign land was deemed to be unacceptable. They sought exemption from some Jordanian laws for members of their organizations.

Transjordan, a territory of today’s Jordan’s Hashemite Kingdom is a part of Palestine in terms of geographical and historical conditions. The nearly empty section of the territory had originally been handed over to the British purely for the restoration of Jews. This territory had been taken from the Turks with assistance from Jewish forces.

Israel views the events of the Black September Organization as an operation that saw the Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom “decisively eliminate a Palestinian uprising in a time span of one month”. The Middle East however, views the step by King Hussein to eject senior Palestinian Leadership including Yasser Arafat from Jordan as an act of mercilessness and cruelty. Contrary to popular knowledge, the events of Black September lasted for a year and a half and not a month. The war climaxed in September of 1970.

The happenings that led to confrontations can be traced to March of 1968, when the Israeli Defense Forces stormed Karameh, a village seven kilometers to the east of River Jordan, where Yasser Arafat had established his headquarters. This had been occasioned by a series of attacks that had been orchestrated by the PLO against Israel[6]. This move was aimed at ensuring that the new wave of terror would be held back.

Despite major efforts by the Israel Defense Forces, Arafat managed to avoid being captured. The little achievement on the warfront appealed to the imagination of Palestinians who were in Jordan and a large part of the Arab world. This earned Arafat fame and admiration as the person who had successfully restored the dignity of Arabs to some extent.

Fatah grew to be the most significant organization in the PLO. Arafat’s men now became more daring and started behaving as though they owned the refugee camps they resided in.

With the strengthening of PLO came a dilemma for the King of Jordan; a Palestinians were the majority of his subjects who were supporters of the guerilla warfare that was being advanced against Israel. The King knew realized that it was impossible to antagonize them without going against most Jordanians which would have risked a confrontation with Nasser (the president of Egypt at that time), who was a supporter of the Palestinians.

On the other hand, the growth in power of the Palestinians was a threat to his sovereignty. The Jordanian law enforcement officers were no longer in authority, not just in the refugee camps but in the north part of the kingdom. The king made an attempt to reinforce his authority in November of 1968 through an agreement containing seven clauses concerning the Palestinians code of conduct in Jordan.

This agreement did not withstand the reality test as the Palestinians continued to gain more power in Jordan hence doing as they pleased[7]. They even went ahead to carry out attacks on Israel without coordinating them with the Jordanian army in whose territory they were occupying. Israel did not hesitate to retaliate against these attacks and this resulted to a near collapse of the Jordanian economy while thousands of Jordanians fled from their homes.

In the year 1969, the United States arrived at a political agreement between two countries, the Arab states and Israel. Palestinian Organizations feared the possibility of a separate Israeli Jordanian agreement that would mark the destruction of their dream of a Palestine state that would stretch all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. In an effort to undermine these political advances, they set out to ring about a military dispute between Israel and Jordan by increasing armed clashes with Israel.

At that point, he could not take any critical action against the PLO without approval from the president of Egypt. When he got it, he drafted an agreement banning the interference of the PLO in the activities of Jordan’s security forces. This led to discontent on the side of the Palestinian organizations and started to plan attacks targeting the Jordanians. Confrontations broke out and hundreds of lives were lost.

In the year 1970, Egypt agreed to the United States’ proposition of an immediate cease fire between Israel and Egypt and a withdrawal by Israel from territories that did not belong to it. This decision brought with it intense clashes between Palestine and Jordan and a subsequent attempt to oust the King which was thwarted. In 1972, the Israeli Olympic Team members were taken as hostages then later killed by Black September in Munich, West Germany[8].

This event came to be known as the Munich massacre. At the end of it, eleven Israeli coaches and athletes and one German law enforcement officer had lost their lives. Five of eight members of the Black September Organization were “killed by the police during a rescue attempt”. These murders cast a dark cloud to the sporting event and on the unresolved problem of the violence in Middle East and the recurrent cycle of retribution.

The involvement of an Israeli team in the Olympics that were held in Germany was very significant since it came just twenty seven years since the horrors of the Holocaust and the conclusion to the World war 11. These events had not been forgotten especially by the Jews.

Many of the participants had lost a loved one in the Holocaust and their participation was a statement of the strength of the Jewish people. Germany had encouraged the participation of the Israeli team and tried to create a friendly atmosphere to help put aside unpleasant memories from the 1936 Berlin Olympics that were used by Hitler to advance propaganda.

The Black September Organization’s choice of location to carry out their attacks was not random. The Jews had a bitter history with Germany following the Holocaust that killed millions of Jews and displaced many.

The Jews had also undergone tribulation in the 1936 Olympics that were held in Berlin under the leadership of Hitler. The Israelis were still reeling from the ramifications of the events of the Holocaust and the Black September Organization took advantage of this unpleasant history between the two states and planned the massacre in Germany.

Germany failed in ensuring that the Israeli team was safe; before the commencement of the games, security experts had advised that additional measures be employed by citing worst case scenarios then formulating counteractions, this was dismissed. After the hostages were taken, the Black September Organization started issuing their demands and threw one of the athlete’s dead bodies to display their resolve. Israel declared that they would not negotiate with the group and quickly assembled a Special Forces unit to go in but the offer was turned down[9].

In its place, German police who had no special training as far as hostage crisis situations was concerned, were sent in. The officers also did not have specialized technical assistance that would have been instrumental in the rescue operation. The small squad of German border police was dispatched wielding sub machine guns and no operation plans for the rescue. The police took their positions and waited for orders that were never given.

When all this was happening, camera crews took footage of the goings on from German apartments, airing the events. This was a big blunder since the terrorist were able to see the police preparing to attack. They were able to anticipate the police’s next move and issued more threats until the police withdrew.

With the failed rescue plan, the terrorists wanted to move to Cairo and the authorities successfully feigned agreement. The hostages and terrorists were carried by bus to two helicopters that were to take them to a nearby NATO airbase. The BSO had wanted to fly via Riem International Airport but the negotiators had managed to direct them to Furstenfeldbruck arguing that it was a more practical option[10].

They were planning an armed attack on the terror group at the airport. Five unqualified snipers were tasked to bring down the large and heavily armed terror group. When they emerged, gunfire commenced and when the guns fell silent all the hostages lay dead while four of the terrorists remained alive.

Germany was not able to improve its image after the Munich massacre due to the way it handled the rescue plans. A number of international athletes pulled out of the games after learning of the Israeli team’s predicament. The Jordanian King joined the Israelis in condemning the murder of the team member, however; he made no comments on the means the Germans used in attempts to rescue the hostages.

Bibliography

Bergesen, Alorzo Lizardo, “International Terrorism and the World-System,” Sociological Theory 22,no 1(2007):38-52.

Groussard Solomon and Salemson hughes, The Blood of Israel: the massacre of the Israeli athletes, the Olympics, 1972(New York: Morrow, 1975), 241-321.

Jasmand, Susan Maennig, “Regional Income and Employment Effects of the 1972

Munich Summer Olympic Games,” Regional Studies 42, no.7 (2008):991.

Katz, Earl Liebes. “No More Peace: How Disaster, Terror and War Have Upstaged Media Events.” International Journal of Communication 1,no.2 (2007):157-166.

Klein Ginsburg, Striking back: the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel’s deadly response (New York: Random House Inc,2007),270.

Mandell, Reene, The Olympics of 1972: A Munich Diary (North Carolina, University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, 1991), 367.

Reeve Solomon, One day in September: the full story of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and the Israeli revenge operation Wrath of God (New York, Arcade Publishing, 2011), 221.

Rosendorff, Sandler. “Too Much of a Good Thing?” Journal of Conflict Resolution,48,no 5(2004):657.

Bergesen, Alorzo Lizardo, “International Terrorism and the World-System,” Sociological Theory 22, no 1(2007):38-52.
Groussard Solomon and Salemson hughes, The Blood of Israel: the massacre of the Israeli athletes, the Olympics, 1972(New York: Morrow, 1975), 241-321.
Jasmand, Susan Maennig, “Regional Income and Employment Effects of the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games,” Regional Studies 42, no.7 (2008):991.
Katz, Earl Liebes. “No More Peace: How Disaster, Terror and War Have Upstaged Media Events.” International Journal of Communication 1,no.2 (2007):157-166.
Klein Ginsburg, Striking back: the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel’s deadly response (New York: Random House Inc, 2007), 270.
Reeve Solomon, One day in September: the full story of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and the Israeli revenge operation Wrath of God (New York, Arcade Publishing, 2011), 221.
Rosendorff, Sandler. “Too Much of a Good Thing?” Journal of Conflict Resolution,48,no 5(2004):657.
Klein Ginsburg, Striking back: the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel’s deadly response (New York: Random House Inc,2007),270.
Rosendorff, Sandler. “Too Much of a Good Thing?” Journal of Conflict Resolution,48,no 5(2004):657.
Mandell, Reene, The Olympics of 1972: A Munich Diary (North Carolina, University of North Carolina Press Chapel Hill, 1991), 367.

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