Critique:
Blaming the Victims of Terror


For much of the Left intelligentsiya, the cold-blooded murder of three thousand innocent civilians by a terrorist organisation was a great pity, but more importantly it was an indictment of American foreign policy. Similarly, a recently screened French documentary about Israel's assassination of Black September operatives conveniently ignores the murders perpetrated by those operatives. 14th September, 2003. By TREVOR STANLEY.

11 September and the Left In the days following 11th September 2001, numerous left-wing intellectuals wrote very similar essays in response to these crimes against humanity. The centrepiece of each essay was a compact expression of sympathy for the innocent dead, and an eloquent statement of categorical condemnation of such violence. The paragraph was intended as a fig-leaf for the remainder of the essay, explaining its exceptionally concise prose, and was usually dispensed with as early as possible. The more convincingly the author deplored wanton violence, the more his essay could excuse it. The more poignant was his sympathy for the innocent as individuals, the more shamelessly could he assert their own country's collective blame for their murder. In other words, the more beautifully expressed were the sentiments in that central paragraph, the more ugly the underlying message of the rest of the essay.
The cold-blooded murder of three thousand American civilians was thus presented as an indictment of America and a response to American policy, even before the Left (or anyone else) was sure who had carried out the attacks. On the other hand, any deaths resulting from America's military response to these murders was, of course, also America's fault. Whether inflicted by Americans or upon Americans, the predetermined guilty party is invariably America. Where America is not directly involved in an event, Israel, or various other powers (Australia, Britain, etc) can usually be blamed, depending on the situation. If all else fails, any untoward event can always be presented as the result of some colonial power's previous intervention, or present failure to intervene.
Black September An example of these bizarre though familiar double standards was expressed in a particularly naked form two days after the recent anniversary of the 11th September attacks, when SBS aired the documentary "Golda's List", by French director Emmanuel François. The video is about the kidnaping and murder of eleven Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games, and the subsequent string of assassinations of the perpetrators and senior PLO officials. With access to the last surviving Black September operative who had direct involvement in the Munich attack, as well as several former Israeli Prime Ministers and intelligence operatives, François had the opportunity to make a compelling documentary examining the shifting ethical sands between assassination and execution, justice and revenge, military and political.
For Israel, the killing of innocent jewish civilians in Germany clearly had unpleasant historical overtones, with World War II still well within living memory. Some of the perpetrators were caught, but were later released1 in exchange for the release of hostages on board hijacked airliners at Amman airport. Israelis were left with the sense that whatever they did, wherever they went, they could be killed with impunity. This is the context for the Israeli response, a context glossed over in sparse detail by the documentary.1 Or 'liberated', as the documentary puts it.
Israeli intelligence agency Mossad proceeded to track down and assassinate a number of Black September operatives and PLO leaders across Europe, individuals whom it believed were involved in the Munich attack. This policy held great risks, which were painfully realised when, in Norway, Mossad agents were captured after shooting an innocent man in Lillehammer, in a tragic case of mistaken identity. (The agents were each sentenced to five years in prison). Even without this terrible mistake, one must ask whether these acts narrowed the moral gap between Israel as the victim and the PLO as the perpetrators.
Moral Equivalence This question is neither answered nor asked because for Emmanuel François there is no gap. Jean-Baptiste Marcenac's voiceover points out that targeted assassinations are "illegal in every democratic country" but uses neutral language in reference to the kidnaping and murder of the civilian athletes in the heart of Europe. Pointing out that some targets were not Black September operatives, but officials of their parent organisation, the PLO, the documentary proclaims - initially through the mouth of terrorist Abu Daoud - that this was a campaign of state terrorism, in which the targets felt in fear for their lives wherever they went. Undeniably, there is a moral distinction between the execution of military personnel and of political leaders, though one which is significantly blurred when the organisation in question exists largely to carry out paramilitary action against civilians. A far more significant distinction however, and one which is ignored by the documentary, is that between athletes at a sporting event, and political figures leading an organisation responsible for the murder of those athletes.
Rather than honestly address these difficult and critical questions, François asserts that, in fact, for Golda Meir the murder of her countrymen in Munich was "but a pretext" for a pre-existing plan. Absolutely no evidence is provided for this assertion. Unable or unwilling to face the fact that Israel was a victim responding to attacks initiated by terrorists, François simply invents a prior intention by Israel. Israel and Black September are thus morally equivalent because, had Black September not sent operatives to Europe to kill innocent civilians in 1972, Mossad would have begun killing those same operatives in Europe, without provocation!
The theories advanced by the documentary are not supported by the interviews, but rather roll right past them, oblivious to the questions they raise. The assertion that Golda Meir or Mossad had a 'hit list' of targeted individuals is maintained despite its categorical refutation by otherwise candid Mossad agents. Every assassination of a PLO or Black September figure is blamed on Mossad, even after otherwise forthcoming Mossad interviewees have singled them out as exceptions, carried out by the victims' Palestinian rivals.2 2 Such as Abu Nidal.
Distortion piled upon shameless distortion. In one amazing scene, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, in a sports jacket and sunglasses, hands raised in the air, laps up the standing ovation as he enters the 2282nd session of the United Nations. The Israeli ambassador reminds the UN that Arafat is the head of a barbaric terrorist organisation which has repeatedly murdered Israeli civilians. Rather than ask why nothing has been done about these murders by UN member states, the voiceover states that the "violence" of the ambassador's words make it clear that "dialogue" between the two sides is impossible. Would it not be more accurate to say that the violent actions of terrorists directed by Arafat, as described by the ambassador's words, obstructed dialogue?
In every detail, this documentary is a sloppy and shameless piece of propaganda which insults standards of decency, as well as the viewer's intelligence. The Palestinians are more than once presented as demanding the authorities 'liberate' their imprisoned comrades in exchange for the 'release' of hostages. Why not the other way around? The Palestinians are trying to bring world attention to the 'plight' of the Palestinian people, whereas the Israelis are motivated only by 'vengeance'. That individuals involved in the planning of a major terrorist attack were allowed to live in the capital cities of Europe is not viewed as an indictment of their respective hosts.
Mossad's extra-judicial killing of suspects in foreign cities is a disturbing episode which raises many questions, none of which are answered by this documentary. Consequently, we are robbed of a much needed opportunity to examine the moral issues of justice and violence we face in an age of asymmetrical warfare.
This dishonest and distasteful production should stand as a warning of the decay of ethics in Western civilisation. If we are to remain decent societies, we must boldly face moral dilemmas, rather than cynically assigning blame to the usual suspects.

Sources:
Golda's List was aired on Australia's Special Broadcasting Service on 13th September 2003.
The Film was produced by Sunset Presse, France.
It was nominated for a International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences award.
Sunset Presse has also recently produced "Cycle of Martyrdom", a film about the 11th September hijackers.



More on this website:
  • Go to the PWHCE home page
  • The Middle East Project and Terrorism Links


    http://www.pwhce.org/golda.html

    ^^^ Top ^^^

    Copyright ©2003 Trevor Stanley, Perspectives on World History and Current Events