With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Yossi Melman and Steven Hartov: Munich: fact and fantasy

In 1984 the blood of the Israeli intelligence operatives and the Palestinian terrorists they hunted in "the war of the spooks" was still congealing in the back alleys of Europe when a young Israeli named Yuval Aviv teamed up with the Canadian George Jonas, a budding journalist. Aviv claimed to be a freshly defrocked Mossad assassin with a true tale to tell, and the game began.

Their resulting bestseller, Vengeance, was a detailed account of Israel's response to the Munich massacre. In September 1972, PLO terrorists introducing themselves as the hitherto unknown group Black September stormed the Israeli dormitories at the Olympic village and took hostage a dozen members of the Israeli team. They demanded the release of their comrades from Israeli prisons. After two days of negotiation, a failed rescue attempt by German police left 11 Israelis and five terrorists dead. Israel's prime minister, Golda Meir, summoned General Zvi Zamir, the head of Mossad, and instructed him to kill all the PLO operatives directly and indirectly involved.

Seen through the eyes of "Avner", Aviv's undercover persona, the story told by the book seemed to marry well with factual newspaper accounts of how Israel eliminated the Black September killers. It was made into a film - Sword of Gideon - and Jonas and Aviv reaped substantial rewards for their "scoop".

However, our investigations show that Aviv never served in Mossad, or any Israeli intelligence organisation. He had failed basic training as an Israeli Defence Force commando, and his nearest approximation to spy work was as a lowly gate guard for the airline El Al in New York in the early 70s. The tale he had woven was apparently nothing more than a Walter Mitty fabrication.

How, then, did Steven Spielberg and his producer, Kathleen Kennedy, choose Aviv's tale as the source for their film Munich? Last July, when we approached the film's producers, the Spielberg PR machine denied any connection to Aviv. But the film's opening scene states that it was inspired by real events, and at the end it gives a credit to Jonas's book.

During shooting, numerous offers to provide the production team with the facts of the case were rebuffed. More than 30 years had passed since those days of deadly cat and mouse (which now seem quaint compared with the daily horrors of the war on terror) and participants on both sides were ready to talk. Yet the men who held the secrets were never contacted. The phone never rang at Zamir's house, though he could have clarified the myths in an hour. Mike Harari, who supervised the hit teams as head of Mossad's operations, did not receive an inquiry from Spielberg's team. The women who represent the families of the murdered Israelis were disappointed not to be approached. Even Mohammed Daoud, the former Black September chief widely accepted as one of the Munich masterminds, was dismayed no one spoke to him....
Read entire article at Guardian (UK)