Israel in Shock as Munich Killers Freed

This week in Haaretz: 1972.

Yael Greenfeter
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Yael Greenfeter

Less than two months had passed since the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and trainers at the Munich Olympics when the country suffered another blow: Three of the Palestinian terrorists captured after the incident at the airport and held in a German jail were released in a prisoner exchange deal made with the hijackers of a German airplane.

On October 29, 1972, two members of the Black September terrorist organization hijacked a Lufthansa jet and demanded the release of the murderers in return for safe release of the passengers and crew.

A member of the Arab Commando group which seized members of the Israeli Olympic Team at their quarters at the Munich Olympic Village, September 5, 1972.Credit: AP

The prisoner exchange deal was signed just a few hours after the demands were placed before West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. The speedy agreement aroused concern that the government was in effect behind it.

The chancellor denied these claims. But Ulrich Wegener, adviser to the German interior minister and founder of the German anti-terrorism unit, said that Bonn did not want to deal with the Palestinians and threats of revenge attacks on German soil, and that they were happy to get rid of the three terrorists.

On November 1, the Israeli ambassador to Bonn was called back to Jerusalem for consultations, which many here interpreted as the government's way of showing it's displeasure with the Germans, according to Haaretz correspondent Matti Golan.

Brandt rejected Israeli accusations that he had surrendered to terrorism.

Golan reported that the chancellor told a press conference that Israel's response was understandable in light of the massacre in Munich, "but we do not accept unjustified accusations, because we are not at war."

Brandt argued that Bonn had given preference to protecting human life and acted as other governments had in the past. In addition he said that the West German government "had requested that Libya try the Arab terrorists who hijacked the plane and brought about the release of the three Palestinians who participated in the Munich murders."

Under the headline, "Bonn's disgrace," Amnon Rubinstein wrote in Haaretz that "the hasty surrender of the German government to extortion by murderers is the type of thing one has to read many times in order to believe it is true. The speed with which the Bonn government acted and the remarks of its spokespeople testify to their desire to get rid of the three murderers, which had become a security burden on them, more than anything else."

Jamal al-Gashey, one of the Munich terrorists, was released after the plane was hijacked and given refuge in Libya. In the 1990s, Gashey agreed to meet with the producers of the film, "One Day in September," which won a best documentary Oscar in 2000. The film depicts the chain of events that ended in the tragedy that took place at the Munich airport, based on information received from Gashey during the interview. He confirmed suspicions about the prisoner exchange deal between Bonn and the terrorists.

According to Gashey, he was informed of it only after he was released. Brandt denied this information, although sources in the Bonn government and in Israeli and Palestinian intelligence hinted that it was true.

In a Knesset session after the prisoner release was made public, MKs suggested several Israeli responses. Haaretz's parliamentary reporter wrote that, "MKs suggest: recall of the ambassador, punishing Libya, stopping Lufthansa flights and canceling the German chancellor's visit."

Prime Minister Golda Meir had harsh words too, saying, "We have been depressed since yesterday, aggrieved and I would say insulted, that the human spirit, so weak and helpless, has surrendered to brutal force."



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