Your Member of Parliament for Harrow East

Andrew Percy MP

Munich Massacre, Westminster Hall Debate

To commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Massacre at the Munich Olympic Games, Bob Blackman MP led a Westminster Hall Debate on the issue.  He spoke passionately during his speech which may be read below.

“ It is a great pleasure to introduce this very important debate under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I am delighted that we are able to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Munich Olympics massacre.

First, we should pay tribute to the tremendous success of the London Olympics. The Olympic Delivery Authority, LOCOG—the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games—the security services, the Army and the police have all helped to deliver a brilliant, safe and secure games. We must also pay tribute to the 70,000 volunteers who have made it such a friendly and relaxed but businesslike Olympics. We see the London Olympics as having been one of the best games ever, and without doubt the London Paralympics have been the best Paralympic games that there have ever been. We can rightly be proud of that.

The games have been assisted by superb performances by athletes and particularly by Team GB. However, the crowd have cheered on athletes from throughout the world, not just Great British athletes. I am minded to recall the words of Lord Coe, who said that the medal table was not the important issue; it was the participation and performance of individual athletes, rather than their country of origin. We celebrate them as Olympians.

Everyone will have their own views on the opening and closing ceremonies of the London games. I think that it was right that we remembered the fallen of two world wars and, of course, the victims of the 7/7 terrorist attacks, but the one thing that was not mentioned was the darkest hour of the Olympic games—the Munich massacre. I think that it is indeed shameful that the International Olympic Committee could not find one minute during the six weeks of the games to commemorate the victims of the worst terrorist attack in Olympic history. I feel very strongly about this and have been very vocal in my belief. I have trumpeted it not only in the House of Commons, but at every event during the summer to do with the Olympics.

It may be worth providing some background and explaining what happened in Munich in 1972 and what the IOC subsequently did. At 4.30 am on 5 September 1972, the summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, were the scene of the most devastatingly violent and anti-Semitic attack against members of the Israeli Olympic team. A group of eight Palestinians—members of the Black September terrorist group—broke into the Olympic grounds and systematically hunted down Israeli athletes, officials and coaches. Forcing their way into bedrooms in the early morning, they killed on sight and took a number of hostages. The Black September members were demanding the release of 234 prisoners held in Israeli jails and their safe passage to Egypt.

After a failed rescue attempt, undertaken by the ill-equipped and ill-prepared German authorities, 11 Israelis and one German police officer were murdered by the attackers. It is imperative that we do not forget those innocent men who died. I feel a duty to name them today: Moshe Weinberg, Yossef Romano, Ze’ev Friedman, David Berger, Yakov Springer, Eliezer Halfin, Yossef Gutfreund, Kehat Shorr, Mark Slavin, Andre Spitzer, Amitzur Shapira, Anton Fliegerbauer. I apologise if my pronunciation was not completely accurate.

Five of the eight assassins were killed by the German security forces. The three survivors were captured, but were later released by West Germany following the hijacking by Black September of a Lufthansa airliner. In a deplorable move, the bodies of the five Palestinian assassins were delivered to Libya, where they received heroes’ funerals and were buried with full military honours. The two prisoners released by the West German Government received a hero’s welcome when they returned and gave a first-hand account of the massacre at a press conference that was broadcast worldwide. Such acceptance and glorification of acts of terrorism must never be accepted.

The massacre prompted the suspension of the Olympics for the first time in modern Olympic history. Although the Israeli Government and Olympic team endorsed the decision to allow the games to continue, it quickly became clear that the remaining athletes no longer felt comfortable competing and groups began to withdraw from the competition.

A memorial service in remembrance of those who had died was held on 6 September and was attended by 80,000 spectators and 3,000 athletes. During the memorial service, the Olympic flag was flown at half mast. That overwhelming attendance and mass mourning was echoed at the 1976 Olympics, where, during the opening ceremony, the Israeli national flag was adorned with a black ribbon.

However, there has been nothing since. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, yet until this year, in a remarkable state of apathy, there had been no further commemoration. In 2004, the widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, Mrs Ankie Spitzer, spoke to a room of more than 200 people at the Israeli ambassador’s residence to denounce that fact and call for a permanent mark of remembrance. Her words are as salient now as they were then:

“More than 30 years have passed, but for the families of the innocent victims, it seems like only yesterday. But why are we standing here? We should have this memorial in front of all the athletes. This is not an Israeli issue; this concerns the whole Olympic family.”

I am appalled by the lack of response from the International Olympic Committee to such calls. It has stated that to introduce such a specific reference could alienate and offend other members of the Olympic community. Indeed, Alex Gilady, an Israeli IOC official, told BBC News Online: “We must consider what this could do to other members of the delegations that are hostile to Israel.”

Frankly, this is a disgrace. It is my firm conviction that we must not allow the memory of this tragedy to fade and that the IOC has an obligation to mark this loss with a permanent form of remembrance.

I am not alone in this sentiment. Mrs Spitzer has since tabled an online petition calling for a one-minute silence at the next Olympics. At the last count, there were 111,000 signatures recorded. The Facebook event aimed at uniting people around the world in their own minute of silence had 172,213 guests. That shows the astounding level of support for this cause.

Earlier this year, I tabled early-day motion 100, calling for a minute’s silence at the London 2012 summer Olympics and at every Olympic games “to promote peace” and “to honour the memory of those murdered”.

I urge hon. Members here today to sign that early-day motion if they have not already done so.

We must now continue to work to put consistent pressure on the IOC. It is vital that we do not allow another anniversary to pass without an appropriate and permanent form of remembrance. The families and friends of those who died have worked tirelessly for four decades for the recognition that they deserve, and I am now asking people here to add their voice to that struggle.

Mr Rogge is on the record as saying that he feels that the opening ceremony “is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”

However, that is wholly inconsistent with past opening ceremonies. The 2002 winter games in Salt Lake City justifiably included a number of references and tributes to those lost or injured in the 9/11 attacks. The same point can be made in regard to the tragic death of Georgian luge slider Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died during a practice run at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic games. Quite rightly, the IOC commemorated his memory during the Olympic ceremony with a moment of silence and flew the Georgian and Olympic flags at half-mast. I see no reason why the same level of courtesy and respect should not be granted to those who lost their lives at the Munich games. The individuals murdered that day were not only Israelis, but Olympians, and should be honoured as such.

Claims that commemoration will politicise the Olympics are fatuous and deny those who lost their lives that day their rightful place in the Olympic family. It is the IOC that is guilty of politicisation, and those who have honourably fought for recognition and remembrance recognise that. Instead of doing what is clearly the right thing, the IOC has rejected repeated appeals from the Israeli team to note the anniversary. Jacques Rogge explained: “The IOC has officially paid tribute to the memory of the athletes on several occasions.”

However, the Israeli Olympic committee and the Israeli Foreign Ministry, rather than the IOC, organised those occasions of remembrance.

Due to the growing amount of pressure placed upon him, the IOC President Jacques Rogge did hold a moment of silence for the Israeli athletes at the Olympic village. He is quoted as saying that it is “absolutely normal I should call for a remembrance of the Israeli athletes.” However, there was no advance notice of the event and, as such, only about 100 people attended. It is clear from the correspondence I have received and the support given to Mrs Spitzer and her cause that that number would have grown exponentially if it had been properly advertised.

The behaviour of the Olympic officials has been wholly inconsistent with their own philosophy. The Olympic charter provides a number of clear bullet-pointed roles of the IOC. To quote a few, its role is

“to encourage and support the promotion of ethics…in sport as well as education of youth through sport and to dedicate its efforts to ensuring that, in sport, the spirit of fair play prevails and violence is banned;…to take action”

in order “to strengthen the unity and to protect the independence of the Olympic Movement”, and
“to act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement”.

The fundamental principles of Olympism state that it “is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles. The goal…is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”

Another key fundamental principle of Olympism is: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.”

The principles make clear that no person or country should be discriminated against, that violence should be abhorred and that human dignity should be valued. I merely ask for those principles to be upheld by the IOC. I am certain that had the 11 murdered Olympians been from any country other than Israel we would not be having this debate. The IOC would have organised a memorial at each and every subsequent Olympic games.

The Olympic ideals of friendship, brotherhood and peace are not just words—not a slogan for nothing. In the words of Mrs Spitzer:

“Our message is not one of hatred or revenge. It’s the opposite. We want the world to remember what happened there so that this will never happen again.”

The message of the campaign and the ethics of the Olympic movement are synonymous and harmonious. It is important that this humanitarian, rather than political, request is granted to show that the IOC still understands that. We should honour the 11 Olympians who lost their lives. We should honour them not because they were Israeli athletes and coaches, but because they were Olympians. We should remember the terrible event and I hope, Ms Dorries, that you will allow us to do so by honouring their memory with a one-minute silence at the conclusion of the debate.”

To read the debate in full, Click Here


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