Term Paper: Media Representations of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict Munich Olympics 1972

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Media Representations of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Munich Olympics 1972

The history of Palestinian-Israel conflict dates back to the end of Nineteenth century though fight for this holy land can be traced back to ancient times. In particular to Palestinian-Israel conflict; both sides have lost countless precious lives and still continue to do so. After the World Wars this conflict is definitely the most devastating in the human history. With no solution in sight the conflict still continues; raging Muslim sentiments against the Pro-Israel West, while the West continues to defend itself and Israel's existence against the acts of terrorists.

In particular to the Massacre of Munich Olympics 1972, it is unquestionably a dark chapter in the history of sports and a cowardly act that resulted in Israeli revenge, further inculcating hate in both sides. The Massacre of eleven innocent athletes and then the way this whole critical situation was handled by media is a question mark. This incident has been stated and restated over past few decades. However, there is a substantial difference between the way it was presented by the media then and the manner adopted by the film makers which is now supported by various sources. It is claimed that the media then was extremely biased and didn't tell the complete story to the world. However, if we look at the movies made in past few years regarding this issue, substantial factual differences will be observed.

The summary of how the events occurred is as followed:

At roughly 5AM local time on June 6, 1972, five Palestinians joined three others near the living quarters of the Israeli athletes and attacked. Two athletes were immediately killed; many fled; nine were held hostage (three were coaches, four were athletes, and two were Israeli security men). By Nine a.m. The kidnappers had identified themselves as the Palestinian Black September group and negotiations began with the Munich police chief, Dr. Manfred Schreiber; the Interior Minister, Hans Dietrich Genscher; the Bavarian state Interior Minister, Bruno Merk; the President of the International Olympic Committee, Avery Brundage; the Arab League's representative in Bonn, Mohammed Khatib; the Tunisian Ambassador; and others. The Palestinians demanded the release of 200 Palestinian prisoners in Israel and safe passage out of West Germany. Golda Meir, then the Israeli Prime Minister, refused any concessions.

The negotiators and Palestinians agreed to fly the Israelis and the Palestinians by helicopter to a near-by military base where they would board a plane for Tunisia. Around Nine p.m., three helicopters arrived in the Olympic Village. The eight Palestinians, nine Israelis, and three German officials boarded the helicopters and flew to the nearby military base. Mr. Brundage gave the instruction that the Palestinians were not to leave the country with the Israelis. As the transfer from the helicopters to the airplane was being initiated around 10:30 P.M., shots were fired. Within minutes, all the Israeli athletes and five Palestinians were killed; three Palestinians were wounded and later arrested. (New York Times, September 1972

This is precisely the chain of events in a simple go. However, how the world was awe struck by this event, the hatred of Israel and Palestine was unveiled and how the media played its role in describing this event is worth a consideration.

Firstly let us look into how the news media then reacted to it:

Several questions have been raised on the integrity of media while covering Munich Olympics 1972. It was the first major event in decades which stamped its monopoly on news media at that time. Since the media from all over the globe was involved therefore different versions of the same event were portrayed. It was claimed that media showed bias towards the coverage o this event and also provided facts which were unverified and added further fuel to the fire.

For example, "In all their activities in Europe, the terrorists have access to Arab business offices as well as embassies and consulates, which often provide money, or even a quick change in passports. The Algerian, Iraqi, Egyptian and South Yemenite embassies are said to be especially helpful; the Libyans are also cooperative, particularly at their consulate in Geneva.

Considering this statement from an eminent media representative, no grounds or proofs were provided which not only created hatred for all Arab communities but also confused the ground realities with myths. Secondly, in a situation like this, the masses were left to believe what the media made them believe. Even mere wrong selection of words could tamper the situation. Just substituting "died" with "killed" would have made all the difference.

For example, One of the least known but most feared intelligence operations in the Middle East is executed by Mossad -- the Israeli version of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, known familiarly as the 'Institute' -- which was organized in 1972 to conduct anti-terrorist campaigns against the Palestinian guerrillas

Statement showed that the actions of the "institute" were righteous and it was perfectly legitimate to kill innocent people during guerilla mission which had a main objective of wiping off the top notch leadership of Black September. Also selective referencing of strong words to a single party molded world's sympathy to one party only, rather than giving subjective view of what happened.

We can take an example of single word "retaliation." (a study by the American organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting monitored the use of the term "retaliation" in the nightly news broadcasts of the three main American networks CBS, ABC, and NBC from September 2000 through March 17, 2002. It is found that of the 150 occasions when "retaliate" and its variants were used to describe attacks in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, 79% were references to Israel "retaliating" and only 9% were references to Palestinians "retaliating."

According to pro-Palestinian watchdog groups

In its "Coverage of the Middle East Crisis in the Opinion Pages and News Coverage of the Charlotte Observer" article, Palestine Media Watch writes the following with regard to lack of verification:

"PMW found that more and more, facts are being verified by independent and Palestinian sources and witnesses rather than relying on Israeli government, Israeli MILITARY or Israeli sources solely. PMW believes this should be a consistent practice, but is encouraged to find it happening increasingly. When Israelis targeted a Palestinian girl school and hospital, they were described as 'Jewish extremists'. Also, when Israeli military or Jewish settlers kill civilians, their death is reported as a 'mistake' or as accidental due to 'crossfire'. These Israeli statements are rarely if ever challenged or reported as verified."

Hence, on various occasions, media was found to present the unverified stories from both sides for example about the release of the hostages who were later killed, omitting major truths, doing selective reposting and decontextualizing the news regarding this whole event. Prejudiced journalists with a certain mind set successfully manage to divide this world into two blocks by providing event coverage based on supporting one party over the other and thus, effecting the integrity of the news media. The world only knows what it was made to see rather the actual aftermath which is still hidden. The target killings of individuals belonging to Black Storm labeled as an act of retaliation by Mossad were never discouraged by Pro-Israeli media groups while the Arab world kept whimpering about the secret operation carried by the "institute." This shows us how media of that time in different regions presented to viewers a complete distorted picture. As a resultant Muslims kept on harboring hate against the Jews and Christians while the retaliation continued.

However, on the other hand, films that have been made on the same subject provide a rather subjective view of this event.

In the movie Munich released in 2005, directed by the American Jewish director Steven Spielberg gives another account of history. The film claiming as inspired by events based on George Jonas's book, Vengeance: The true story of an Israeli counter-terrorist team, revolves around a special cell of Mossad operatives who set out to kill eleven members of Black Storm, the alleged Palestinian terrorist group that was responsible for killing the Israeli Athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972.

It would be rite to say that Spielberg tried to look beyond Schindler's List (1994), his earlier movie which literally globalized the memories of Holocaust and gave sympathies to Jews and pride of existence to the Israeli nation. Munich on the other hand is a movie in pursuit of morality and justice. Described by Spielberg as a prayer for peace, Munich is a watchable thriller where human spirit and morality wins in the end. In the movie, on various occasions Jews question their own motives;

In one of his "What have we become?" speeches, Robert/Kassovitz warns Avner of the danger of sinking to the level of the terrorists, "that's what makes us Jewish," the bomb-maker pleads. Yes, he admits, we (the Jews) have suffered terribly, but "we don't have to do wrong just because we were wronged." Taken from the Movie, Munich (2005)… [END OF PREVIEW]

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