No Moment of Silence For Munich Massacre at Olympic Opening

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - More than 10,000 international athletes gathered for the opening of the Olympic Games in Sydney Friday, including the largest delegation of athletes Israel has ever sent to the games. Forty Israeli hopefuls are joining the throng who will compete for their countries in the hopes of winning a coveted medal.

However, it is not a stunning sporting victory for which Israel is most remembered in the annals of Olympic history. It was the loss of 11 athletes and coaches killed during a siege by Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorists that thrust Israel into the headlines at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

The hostage-taking and bungled rescue attempt by German police was the worst tragedy ever to mar the Olympic games. However, organizers have repeatedly refused to honor the memory of the slain athletes.

This year was no different. Organizers of the first Games of the new millennium declined to open them with a moment of silence for the murdered Olympians, saying such a memorial would send a political message.

"If anything, the principle of keeping politics away from sports argues strongly for a commemoration of the Munich massacre, the ultimate violation of that principle," an editorial argued in Friday's Jerusalem Post.

"It's a shame [the Olympics officials won't] commemorate the Munich massacre, Rogel Nahum, the Israeli team captain, was quoted as saying.

"At all of the Olympic Games, there should be an event to remember the tragedy ... it's not something insignificant," said the 33-year-old triple jumper. "In games of friendship, when something like this happens, you should always remember it, especially for the next generation."

Arab commentator Ramzy Baroud, writing on, had a different view, arguing that Israel sought during every Olympics to exploit the Munich incident.

"Israel, along with its media patrons in the West are aggressively pushing to cultivate the nearly three-decade-old event as much as politically necessary," Baroud charged.

Apart from the organizers' decision not to mark the loss in the opening ceremony, the Palestine Olympic Committee also objected to a memorial plaque for the Munich 11 being placed on one of the pylons dedicated to previous Games.

The Jewish community in Sydney did see to it that there was one first-time remembrance. A stainless-steel plaque, engraved with the names of the 11 victims, was placed just outside the main Olympic stadium.

In 1972, eight Palestinian terrorists burst into the Israeli quarters of the Olympic village in Munich, killing two Israelis.

Equipped with sub-machine guns, pistols and grenades, the terrorists took the other nine Israelis hostage demanding the release of 200 Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails.

After 20 hours of negotiating, in which Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir refused to consider releasing the prisoners, the terrorists were convinced to go to a nearby military airport with their nine hostages.

The nine Israelis and a German police officer died in an abortive attempt to rescue the hostages. Five gunmen also died during the rescue effort.

During the crisis, the International Olympic Committee refused appeals to halt the Games until international pressure was applied. After the botched raid, the Games were suspended for less than a day and resumed after a memorial service.

German Chancellor Willy Brandt withdrew an order to fly all nations' flags at half- mast after 10 Arab nations objected. What was left of the Israeli team was the single team to leave the Games in protest. Five non-Jewish athletes quit the competition for conscience sake.

In 1992, 20 years after Munich, Israel's first Olympic medallist, Yael Arad, dedicated her silver medal for judo to the Munich 11.

This year the Munich massacre was once again catapulted into the Israeli and international consciousness when the Academy Award-winning documentary One Day in September hit the theaters.

For two decades the German government had denied the existence of any records on the operation. In 1992, however, the wife of a murdered team coach received a phone call after she appeared on German television.

The anonymous caller later provided 80 pages of autopsy and ballistic reports and eventually the German government was forced to reveal more than 3,000 files of information and 900 photographs.

Abu Daoud, a Palestinian lawyer and member of the Palestine National Council, admitted in memoirs published last year to have planned the seizure of Israeli athletes during the Olympics in a bid to win the freedom of imprisoned PLO members.

He said PLO chairman Yasser Arafat had been briefed on the plan beforehand, and that Arafat and two other men saw him off on the mission with the words, "Allah protect you."

See Earlier Story:
German Prosecutors Won't Probe Arafat Link to Munich Attack (14 April 2000)