Let Susan Ryder take you for a journey. Her own.
I was nine years old and caught up in the magnitude and majesty of the Summer Olympics for the first time, which coincided with the event’s first significant television coverage in this country. Mum had fished out the atlas and shown me where Munich was in the middle of Europe. Olga Korbut and Mark Spitz had become household names, their prowess mesmerising the world. And like the rest of New Zealand, we got up in the middle of the night to watch the Eights, live by satellite, magnificently row for gold.
I can clearly remember jumping up and down with tears pouring down my face, as the enormity of a team from a small country at the bottom of the world beating everybody else, dawned on me. It remains my favourite Olympic gold, and I think all Kiwis who remember that occasion retain a soft spot for the memory, too.
Being so young, the dirty world of politics was still unknown to me. But that was all to change with the news that some of the Israeli team had been taken hostage by members of an organisation called ‘Black September’, bringing the Games to an unimaginable halt.
“But why do those men want to hurt the athletes from Israel, Mum?”
I now know why she took a deep breath before answering. And in the next few minutes I heard the words ‘Holocaust’, ‘Nazis’ and ‘Palestine Liberation Organisation’ for the very first time.
None of it made any sense to me. I couldn’t understand why somebody would hate somebody else just because they went to a different church. But then I’d heard rumours that some people didn’t like other people because they were a different colour and I didn’t understand that either. I still don’t.
The ensuing events saw the West German authorities out of their depth, resulting in the murder of all eleven hostages. The three surviving terrorists were later released to a heroes’ welcome in Libya. Four years later, however, history was not to repeat itself.
In June 1976 an Air France flight originating in Tel Aviv and carrying 260 people was hijacked en route to Paris by Palestinian and German terrorists, who forced its diversion to Entebbe Airport in Uganda via Libya. With the full support of Ugandan President Idi Amin, they demanded the release of 53 detainees, 40 of whom were Palestinians in Israel, the refusal of which would result in hostages being killed. Over the course of a week more than half the hostages were released, leaving a total of 105 captive, including the entire French crew who would not leave their 85 Israeli and Jewish passengers.
Having successfully extended the initial deadline by three days, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) received the go-ahead to conduct ‘Operation Entebbe’ under the cover of darkness. An audacious rescue mission, the lightning-quick operation was over in less than an hour, resulting in the rescue of all but four of the hostages and the death of all eight terrorists. Three hostages were accidentally killed during the operation, with the fourth, an elderly woman in Kampala Hospital being treated for an unrelated condition, subsequently dragged from her bed and murdered, along with medical staff who tried to intervene, by Ugandan soldiers on Amin’s orders.
My own memory is of waking to the news on a Sunday morning and being full of stunned admiration for Israel, having watched the terrible images on the nightly news the preceding week and trying to not imagine the horror the hostages were experiencing. While everybody else was wailing and hand-wringing, the gutsy Israelis simply took matters into their extremely capable hands.
To me, it seemed cut and dried. A group of individuals were holding innocent people to ransom and the latter were rescued by their government. If somebody had done that to me for the crime of being a New Zealander, I would have expected my government to do likewise. I thought those commandos were heroes. (And given his recent address to the United Nations, it should be noted that Benjamin Netanyahu’s older brother was the sole commando killed in action during that mission).
Predictably, the United Nations saw things differently. UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim described the raid as "a serious violation of the national sovereignty of a United Nations member state" (i.e. Uganda). I can date my ongoing contempt for the UN from that moment.
And less than ten years later, I went to Israel.
To be continued tomorrow. . .
* * Read Susan Ryder’s column every Tuesday here at NOT PC . . . and sometimes, if you’re especially fortunate, on succeeding days as well * *