by Uzi Dann, Israeli Newspaper HAARETZ
A memorial ceremony was held on Monday in Beijing to honor the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered in a Palestinian terror attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The ceremony was organized by the Israeli embassy in the city and the Israel Olympic Committee at the Hilton hotel.
Hundreds attended the event, including representatives of Israel’s athletic delegations, and Science, Culture and Sport Minister Raleb Majadele.
A significant number of foreign delegates, military attaches and Olympic officials were in attendance as well. Among the guests of honor was Juan Antonio Samaranch, International Olympic Committee president from 1980 to 2001, and Alex Giladi, Israel’s delegate to the IOC.
On September 4, 1972, 10 Israeli athletes and a coach were taken hostage by Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group with ties to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organization.
Just after midnight on September 6, after West German police botched the rescue attempt, the group killed all of the hostages and a German police officer.
Memorial ceremonies for the Munich massacre have been held at every Olympics since the 2000 Games in Sydney. They have always been organized by Israeli authorities.
For the past 36 years, the IOC has denied any culpability in the athletes’ deaths. ON Monday Samaranch gave a heartfelt speech about keeping the slain sportsmen’s memories alive, describing the massacre as the “blackest moment in the history of the Olympic movement.”
While in office, neither Samaranch nor his successor, Jacques Rogge, made even the slightest effort to commemorate the victims. Those most hurt by the committee’s inaction were the families of the slain athletes.
Since Munich, widows Anki Spitzer and Ilana Romano have tried to persuade IOC officials to erect a monument to the slain athletes in the city’s Olympic Village.
On Monday, Romano pleaded with Giladi, who was present at the 1972 Games as a broadcaster, that the “next ceremony be held under the Olympics’ five-ring banner.”
Spitzer spoke in English about the families’ desire not for vengeance, but for peace of mind, and of the difficulties the widows have faced in raising 14 children between them as orphans.
She also leveled damning accusations at Rogge and his predecessors.
“The sons, husbands and fathers who were murdered weren’t tourists or bystanders, but part of the Olympic family. But the Olympic family doesn’t recognize them,” she said, receiving a standing ovation from the audience.
Despite the emotional pleas, the ceremony will likely remain an Israeli-organized event at the London Games in 2012, and indeed for the foreseeable future.
The Olympics prides itself on being an apolitical event.
Holding a ceremony in honor of the athletes of a small, conflict-prone Middle Eastern state – no matter how justified – is likely low among its priorities.