The Munich Massacre: The History and Legacy of the Notorious Terrorist Attack on Israeli Athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics

Written by Charles River Editors
Category: · History

*Includes pictures
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents

“We just got the final word … you know, when I was a kid, my father used to say ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.’ Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They’ve now said that there were eleven hostages. Two were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.” – Newscaster Jim McKay

At 10:00 a.m. on September 12, 1972, Prime Minister Golda Meir appeared before a special session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. Wasting no time, the austere, chain-smoking grandmother addressed a full house of 120 members. “I want to share my plans with you,” she said. ‘I’ve decided to pursue each and every one of them. Not one of the people involved in any way will be walking around on this earth for much longer. We will chase them to the last.”

These determined and resolute words were spoken in reference to the surviving operatives and planners of one of the most audacious terrorist attacks mounted against Israel since the founding of the nation in 1948. A week earlier, on September 5, 1972, 8 Palestinian terrorists belonging to the Black September faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) entered the Olympic Village in Munich, West Germany, and took 11 Israeli athletes and team members hostage. After a lengthy standoff and a bungled rescue operation, all 11 were killed.

Black September was a shadowy and loosely configured organization, the nature and structure of which has been disputed by historians and journalists since it first appeared in 1972. It is generally regarded as a splinter group of Fatah, although some sources claim that it was simply a smokescreen used by Fatah to avoid direct complicity in certain operations. Other sources claim that it represented an ideological and tactical break from the traditional Fedayeen, with a more international complexion to its organization and structure. Either way, it was an extremist group shut down by the PLO in September 1973, on the anniversary of its creation, ostensibly because of a withdrawal of the PLO from terrorist operations abroad.
As author Salah Khalaf put it in his book, Stateless, “Black September was not a terrorist organization, but was rather an auxiliary unit of the resistance movement, at a time when the latter was unable to fully realize its military and political potential. The members of the organization always denied any ties between their organization and Fatah or the PLO.” 

The key element of Golda Meir’s speech was the sense of outrage felt by the Israeli people against an act that transgressed both the essential principles of the Olympic Games and the unwritten charter of the Israeli people, drawn up over less than three decades of uncertain existence. Israel was founded on little more than determination and religious and social cohesion, forged in a crucible of war against unequal odds and the fanatical resolve of all of its neighbors to see it destroyed. While today Israel is one of the most divisive political subjects across the world, the Munich Massacre and the Israeli operations in response all came about entirely because of the emotional power inherent in the Israeli-Arab conflict.

The Munich Massacre: The History and Legacy of the Notorious Terrorist Attack on Israeli Athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics looks at one of the most controversial events in sports history. Along with pictures and a bibliography, you will learn about the Munich Massacre like never before.

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