For 11 Israeli families, and for many more in Israel and around the Jewish world, today is a day of sorrow. Forty-two years ago, in 1972, the XX Olympic Games were held in Munich, Germany. The atmosphere leading up to the Games was filled with tension as they were the first to be held in Germany since the Nazis hosted the Games in 1936. The Israeli athletes and their trainers were especially nervous; many had family members who had been murdered during the Holocaust or were themselves Holocaust survivors.
It was on September 5, that 11 members of the Israeli Olympic delegation were kidnapped. Two were murdered at the Olympic village that day, while nine others were killed at the nearby airport on September 6.
The Munich massacre was a terrorist attack carried out by 8 members of Black September, a group affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). They demanded the release of 234 prisoners from Israeli prisons and two from German prisons.. The situation ended with a huge firefight at the airport, following a botched rescue attempt, which left five of the terrorists and all of the nine hostages dead.
The month of Elul, also known as the month of mercy and forgiveness, had no mercy for the 11 Israeli victims. These innocent athletes marched proudly at the Olympic opening ceremony, waving the Israeli flag. They were murdered for that exact reason — that they were Jews and Israelis.
Twenty-one years later, Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo Accords in Washington in the same month of Elul. The Oslo agreement said that Israel would withdraw from the territories of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip to allow the establishment of a Palestinian Authority for self-government for an interim period until permanent arrangements would be established.
It seems that a different set of rules and ethics, if you want to call it that, govern terrorist groups. If you fast-forward to today — 42 years from Munch and 21 from Oslo — we find ourselves observing a cease-fire after 50 days of war. During those 50 days, Israel fought Hamas, another Palestinian terrorist group, who seems to have forgotten the Oslo agreement and Israel’s 2005 withdraw from the Gaza strip. Unfortunately Hamas, as well as ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) follow in the bloody footsteps of Black September, the terrorists of the 1972 Munich Olympics.
It is our unity, resilience, determination and belief that has kept us going whenever we have been threatened and attacked. It is what is keeping us going now. We shall prevail and cherish the blessed memory of the Munich 11, of the journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, of the ISIS victims and all other terror victims.
With prayers for a peaceful Shabbat, and for the promise of mercy and forgiveness throughout the month of Elul —