The Darkest Hour

Abu Mazen, the stylishly dressed successor to, and for 40 years, lackey of, Yasser Arafat has the world spellbound.

Angela Bertz

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צילום: ערוץ 7
I wonder if Abu Mazen has ever heard the well-known, rather ominous expression: "The darkest hour is just before dawn."

He should, in fact, be rather well acquainted with it. On September 5th, 1972, just after 4:00am, eight heavily armed Palestinian terrorists were making their way around the perimeters of the Olympic Village in Munich. These games, heralded as the "Carefree Games", in glaring contrast to those of 1936, associated as they were with all its Nazi spectacles, was in for a tragic awakening.

These eight figures silhouetted against the walls moved stealthily towards gate 25A. The gate was locked, but unguarded. They spanned the six-foot high perimeter fence with sports bags heavily laden with Kalashinikov assault rifles and grenades.

Abu Mazen was no doubt sleeping peacefully as this nightmare was unfolding.

Once inside the village, the assassins knew exactly where they were heading: 31 Connollystrasse, the building that housed the Israeli Olympic team. Like Abu Mazen, they would have been sleeping soundly. The only person that stirred was Joseph Gottfreund, who was awakened by the sound of scratching coming from the door. He crept cautiously into the communal lounge to investigate. He watched with sleepy eyes as the door opened a few inches revealing the barrel of a Kalishnikov rifle. Within seconds, the dreamlike state of this wrestling referee turned to horror, and he pounced towards the door with his massive 6' 3", 295 lb. frame in an attempt to block the intruders.

It was too late.

Within seconds, the terrorists had pushed their way in and, at gunpoint, Joseph was forced to the floor. They moved towards the other rooms and rounded up the rest of the team. The new day had barely dawned before Moshe Weinberg lay dead, killed by a bullet as he tried to knife one of the assailants. Once all the hostages had been taken, their wrists and ankles were tightly bound.

The terrorists were from Black September, an extremist group from within the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Ali Hassan Salameh and Abu Daoud, who had orchestrated the siege, answered directly to Yasser Arafat. Abu Mazen, long time treasurer of the PLO, provided not only the financing for the attack, but his good wishes to go along with it.

By 6:00am, the terrorists made their demands known - the release of 236 prisoners in Israeli jails. Golda Meir, Israel's prime minister at the time, refused to negotiate with terrorists, fearing this would mark a precedent for future attacks. By late that afternoon, the games were suspended. Abu Mazen and millions around the world watched as, yet again, Jewish blood was spilled on German soil.

By late afternoon, plans to storm the building were called off and the terrorists had requested a jet. At 10:00pm, helicopters arrived to transfer the hostages, together with their captors, and at 11:30pm, they landed close to a decoy plane. A German police crew was on board the plane. For over an hour, shots between the terrorists and police snipers were exchanged. At 1:00am, hours before the dawn of a new day, a grenade was thrown into one of the helicopters, killing instantly all on board. The second helicopter was sprayed with bullets.

In less than 24 hours, 11 Israelis had been murdered and ABC announcer Jim McKay uttered his fateful words: "They're all gone."

Less than two years later, on May 15th 1974, terrorists, later identified as members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a faction of the PLO, broke into a school in the northern Israeli town of Ma'alot. One hundred children from a Safed school were asleep on the floor, tired but cheerful after a long day hiking. They ranged in age from 14 to 16. Within minutes, the terrorists had killed a security guard and some of the children. Some of the terrified students managed to escape by jumping out a window. The rest were held hostage while the terrorists again tried to negotiate for the release of prisoners.

The following day, the Israeli parliament met in an emergency session. Golda Meir said during the incident that one does not make politics on the backs of one's children.

By late that afternoon, an elite Israeli army unit stormed the building. All the hostage-takers were killed. It is believed that the terrorists had detonated grenades and fired shots, killing many more of the children and some of the teachers.

The total number of people killed, including those killed at random the night before as the terrorists made their way to the school, was 26. Twenty-one of the dead were children. Nearly 70 more had been wounded.

Abu Mazen, who was born in Safed, had tried to visit the city in the 1990s. While he was on his way, many of the city's residents campaigned strongly against the visit and, at the last minute, the trip was diverted to Haifa, where Abu Mazen was met with a rather more sympathetic ear - in the shape of Amram Mitzna.

One of the survivors of the massacre is Safed Mayor Yishai Maimon. He had been an 11th-grade student at the time. To this day, he can still vividly recall the screams of the hapless children and the gunshots. The mayor asserts that the person responsible for sending the murderers to Ma'alot was Abu Mazen. He went on to say, "The man is a murderer with Jewish blood on his hands and hides under the guise of a peddler of peace... he is worse than Arafat". Abu Mazen has yet again expressed a desire to visit the town of his birth. The mayor, still with bitter memories of that brutal day 31 years ago, swears he will physically prevent that from ever happening.

Abu Mazen, the stylishly dressed successor to, and for 40 years, lackey of, Yasser Arafat has the world spellbound.

If anyone in their right mind thinks this is the dawning of a new era, then let them look back to that Munich dawn of September 1972.