Iconic Photos

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Munich Olympics Massacre

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Although it would be still a few more years before 24/7 news cycle, the 1972 Munich Olympics and the subsequent hostage crisis unfolded live on televisions around the globe. On 5th September — right in the middle of the Games — terrorists sympathizers of the Palestinian cause broke into the Olympic Village and kidnapped members of the Israeli Olympic squad. Although the security service prepared itself theoretically for such an event (the infamous Sieber scenario 21), the police didn’t realize that the kidnappers would able to follow their reactions and plans by simply turning on television sets.

The above photo of the hooded terrorist on the balcony of the Israelis’ hotel room, taken by AP’s Kurt Strumpf, is considered to be one of the defining images of international terrorism. Clad in a nondescript pull-over, his face hidden by a sinister looking balaclava with cut-out slits for eyes, he looked more like a dehumanized monster than a young man from a Palestinian refugee camp that he was. We don’t know for certain who he was, yet this faceless individual personified the very image of the modern terrorist: someone who is not like us, does not look like us, and comes from some faraway place of which we knew little; someone different, alien, and inherently evil.

Two athletes were already killed before the hostage crisis progressed to a military airport at Fürstenfeldbruck, where a failed rescue attempt ended up with nine remaining hostages dead . The Games continued during the crisis, but eventually they were halted for a few hours. There was a move to cancel the rest of the Games, but they continued, a decision which the Israeli authorities supported. When the Games re-started, it began with mournfully tunes from Beethoven and a memorial service held in the Olympic Stadium.

After every Olympics, organizers publish an official report; Munich’s one was “Teutonically comprehensive”, but recounted the atrocity in “dispassionate, mostly exculpatory prose”, according to Time magazine, ending with a “grotesque rationalization”. The organizers wrote: “After the terrible events of September 5, 1972, it was once again the atmosphere of the Olympic Village which contributed a great deal to calming down and preserving peace among the athletes.” Left unsaid of course were unsightly stories of a New Zealand weightlifter who took a Polaroid snapshot not different from Strumpf’s photo above and spent the rest of the game trying to sell the photo and of ten nations which vehemently refused to let their flags fly at half-mast.

For better or for worse, the hostage crisis brought the Palestinian cause to the world’s attention. It’s hard to imagine it now, but at the time of Munich, the Palestinians were still a forgotten people. Israeli prime minister Golda Meir insisted they did not exist, and all the footage from 1972 never used the word “Palestinian”; the gunmen were simply “Arabs.”

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 29, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Posted in Politics

Tagged with , ,

8 Responses

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  1. > insisted they did not exist

    They don’t exist. They’re Jordanians who happen to be unwanted by Jordan and all other Arab countries.

    No thanks

    June 29, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    • That’s right the area occupied by Israel now was completely empty before 1948. You can look it up.


      June 30, 2010 at 1:03 am

  2. They dont exist? And who are those people cramming in Gaza? Israel, so much sorow.


    July 1, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    • In fact, the mejority of the nations we now know – Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and palestine were created after the second world war and were divded between france and Britan (who controlled what was then palestine until 1948)

      the people living in those areas didn’t call them selves palestinians only after the war of 67.

      the general rule of “nations” is a nation exists if the people in it belive they are in fact a part from one nation.
      the palestinians began to have nationalistic ambitions only a long time after the israelis.

      furthermore Golda Meir said that the palestinans will have peace with Israel only the day the realise they love their children more then they hate Israelis.

      the form of terror and violance is always the bad action therfore your saying that there is somewhat justification to the act of killing 11 athletes is, if anything, sad.

      palestine should be indepndent but the road to independance does not pass in the valley of terror.


      July 14, 2010 at 11:17 pm

  3. […] Munich Kidnappings […]

  4. “The hostage crisis brought the Palestinian cause to the world’s attention.”

    Yes. They kidnap. They hijack planes. They kidnap civilians. They bomb public buses. They shoot rockets at innocents. They kill Olympians.
    They kill
    They kill.
    They kill.


    October 31, 2010 at 3:00 am

  5. […] Owens gets cheers; Antonio Rebollo lights the flame; the bloody water-polo match; terrorism rears its ugly hooded head. Follow me on Twitter […]

  6. […] For detailed articles for photos above, clockwise from top-left: Black Power salute; Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz; Greg Louganis; Dorando Pietri; American basketball team’s controversial loss; Jesse Owens gets cheers; Antonio Rebollo lights the flame; the bloody water-polo match; terrorism rears its ugly hooded head. […]

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