‘Can we even conceive which questions to ask?’

‘Can we even conceive which questions to ask?’

Mourners for one of the victims of the Munich massacre 
Mourners for one of the victims of the Munich massacre 

Editor’s note: In September 1972, David Twersky, then a student at CCNY, was a staff writer for the Jewish Student Press Service when 11 Israeli athletes were murdered at the Olympic Games in Munich by members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. This week, New Voices Magazine, the national magazine for college Jews now published by JSPS, re-published an article written by Twersky in the wake of the massacre at newvoices.org. Twersky, who died in 2010, would later become editor-in-chief of New Jersey Jewish News.

How can we react to the slaughter of the Israeli athletes? Can we fix the blame? Can we even conceive which questions to ask?

…yet in Munich they asked if the games should go on.

…yet in Jerusalem — how and where the army should retaliate was the subject of conjecture.

…in countless newspaper columns and editorials — how shocking were the killings and how dare they commit such an act at the Olympics! (As if somehow the spirit of brotherhood supposedly embodied in the games was of greater import than the lives of those killed in full bloom.)

In her New York Post column, Harriet Van Horne places both the Israelis and the Arabs outside the pale of civilization, as though the great standard bearers of the civilized world have been exemplary models of conduct.

…in Munich the Egyptian delegation fled back to its own country, while in Cairo Sadat would not answer Willy Brandt’s telephone calls.

…in Tel Aviv people went to sleep after the announcement that all the hostages were safe and woke up to the death report. People cried openly on the streets though thoughts soon turned to anger and vengeance.

Israeli newspapers had to rely on their sports reporters to tell the public what had happened: “Now 6,000,0011,” one wrote. “Once again Jewish blood is spilled on German soil,” wrote another. Today in Europe no Israeli walks the streets without some trace of fear; Jews look over their shoulders in Europe — just because they are Jews. And just a few miles away, Dachau….

A few days before the kidnapping and killing, there had been a memorial service at Dachau. Only a small percentage of the Israeli athletic delegation had attended the event. Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon had demanded an inquiry as to why.

And now in New York the [UN] Security Council met in emergency session while Israeli planes were attacking guerilla encampments in Lebanon and Syria. The newspapers were pained by the bombing of a village that resulted in the death of children and women. The Lebanese claimed that no guerillas remained in these areas — the Israelis claimed they were there. The BBC sent a film crew that videotaped dead children in a Lebanese village. Many in Israel attack (verbally) “yefei nefesh,” i.e., “bleeding-heart liberals.”

There are many ironies in this story — deep, moving ironies. With due concession to the sports columnists’ ill-titled story, Jews were innocent victims of killing in Germany once more. German innocence here is not the point; of course, they did what they could. But a real factor in many minds, especially German and Jewish, was the setting of the Olympics and of the tragedy. The last time an Olympics was held in Germany: 1936 in Berlin. America embarrassed Hitler by presenting him with a black gold medal winner, Jesse Owens. But not wishing to embarrass the Fuehrer twice, they pulled two Jewish runners from the last race. One was Marty Glickman, presently employed as the radio broadcaster for the New York Giants football games.

…Once again a few miles from Dachau….

How ironic that the Egyptians ran home, perhaps afraid of Black September. Now Jews, too, have a “Black September,” a month for collective mourning. The Egyptians were out of Germany before Mark Spitz was out of the water.

How can we understand the sweep of the tide of history? Only this way: Black September has succeeded in its wild scheme. The world is polarized again, especially the Mideastern world. Peace will be missing from the marketplace conversation and from government planning. No one among the Israelis will talk about the rights of Palestinians as a people. And this is the greatest irony of all for the Palestinians. For only by working together with the Israelis will they achieve a just solution to their problem and ours. That their actions should serve to postpone this long-awaited dream, sadly, makes no sense at all.

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