Saturday, July 23, 2005

Oh How Terrorism Has Changed…

I first saw One Day in September, an academy award winning documentary film on the kidnapping and killing of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, at the insistence of my son, and wasn’t expecting to like it. But I was surprised,it was great film. Even though the outcome is known to most viewers upfront (all 11 Israeli hostages are killed), the film maintains suspense. It also sheds light on the surprisingly bumbling and disturbingly callous handling of the affair by the German authorities. It was produced, amazingly, by the same person, Arthur Cohn, who produced Vitorio de Sica’s Academy Award winning film The Garden of the Finzi Continis.

The film is now destined for fame. Steven Spielberg is currently shooting a narrative film on the aftermath of of the kidnapping, picking up where the documentary ended. As the documentary shows, five of the eight terrorists were killed during the shootout that ended the siege, the other three were captured and imprisoned. A few months later, a Lufthansa plane, carrying only eleven male passengers, was kidnapped, and in return for its release, the German government released the three terrorists. As the German authorities essentially acknowledge in the film, this second kidnapping was staged, setup because the Germans did not want the liability of having three Arab terrorists in their custody.

After the Germans released the three terrorists, the Israeli Mossad hunted down and killed two of them, along with another five people who the Mossad determined had helped plan the attack. The third terrorist escaped several attempts on his life, and now lives in hiding. The filmmakers managed to make contact with him and he appears in the documentary. Spielberg’s film will tell, in fictional form, the story of the hunting down of these terrorists by the Mossad.

In trying to explain to a friend the complex story of the kidnapping and how it was handled, I was hit by the fundamental change that has occured in terrorist philosophy. In 1972, the kidnappers were trying their best to get out of the whole affair alive. Ultimately, that’s the leverage that the hostage negotiaters had over them, and had it been handled even semi-professionally, it seems pretty clear that most of the hostages would have survived. Even at the very end, in a shootout with German police at a small airfield, the terrorists didn’t kill the hostages until the very end, after a full two hour gunfight. It was only when it was entirely and completely clear to them that they would not get away, that they turned on their captives.

Today suicide attacks seem to have become the only legitimate form of terrorism. Suicide bombers are a dime a dozen. Nothing less seems like enough. The role of negotiaters, snipers, and commando units in fighting terrorism seems to have been obviated. I wonder if we’ll ever manage to get the genie back into the bottle. I’m almost longing for the genteel days of airplane hijackings…

Which reminds me of a new joke last time I was in Israel:

Two Palestinian girls walk down the street. One asks the other.

“Does this bomb make me look fat?”


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