Munich Olympics: When terrorism won

The 1972 Munich Olympics was supposed to showcase the face of the new Germany. Instead, the horrific death of 11 Israeli athletes — slaughtered as the world watched  — marked a watershed moment in the Palestinian struggle and raises important questions about the power and effectiveness of terrorism. Join Noam Weissman as he explains the details of that day and what followed, and why the massacre at Munich was not just another 1970’s terrorist attack.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. What was one of the goals of the 1972 Munich Olympics?
    • To show the world the new Germany (27 years after the Holocaust)
    • To have the best security for its athletes
    • To ensure Israel would win as many medals as possible
    • To project strength
  2. After the Israeli hostages were taken, did the Olympics continue or not?
  3. To what extent was the Israeli military and Mossad included in saving the hostages?
  4. The Munich Massacre was instrumental in:
    • Gaining support for Germany’s security system
    • Gaining international support for the Palestinian cause
    • Furthering the sport of basketball
    • Showcasing the tolerance of the Olympic games
  5. What is the name of the terrorist group that engaged in the Munich massacre?
    • Hezbollah
    • ISIL
    • Hamas
    • Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
  1. In a remarkable opportunity for Israel to simply be accepted as just “one of the nations,” Israel was singled out in the most visible way on the greatest world stage. Will the Jewish people ever be included as one of the nations, or are the Jews condemned to be a nation that dwells alone?
  2. Operation “Wrath of God,” in which Golda Meir approved the Mossad’s kidnapping and assassination of the perpetrators of the Munich Massacre, leads to the serious ethical questions of how to responsibly respond to a massacre of these proportions. Left-wing peace activist, Yossi Sarid, once said, “Terrorism is a dirty war and that is how it must be fought.” What’s your take?
  3. Does the story of Munich and the Israelis who were killed for “the sin of being Israeli Jews” make you feel more or less connected to the Israeli story?
    The Olympics provided an audience for terrorism and through it, the whole world learned about the Palestinian cause. The one surviving kidnapper, Jamal Al Gashey, argued why he did what he did in an interview, saying:

    “I’m proud of what I did in Munich because it helped the Palestinian cause enormously … Before Munich the world had no idea about our struggle. But on that day the word Palestine was repeated all over the world.”

    In fact, two years after the massacre, Yasser Arafat, who endorsed the Munich operation, was received by the United Nations, shocking the world by saying:

    “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”

    In the case of Munich, a terribly challenging question emerges: Does terrorism work?

  1. Play our Munich Massacre Kahoot!
  2. Lead a podcast listening party. Download our PDF Guide.

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