In September of 1972, an armed group of guerrilla fighters calling themselves Black September stormed the dormitory of the Israeli athletes at the Olympic Village in Munich, Germany. After killing two of the eleven athletes in particularly gruesome ways, they demanded the release of more than 250 prisoners held in Israeli prisons.
The world was glued to its television sets while the standoff continued. Golda Meir, Israel’s prime minister at the time, mobilized an elite commando team to go to Germany and rescue their brothers. The German government and the International Olympic Committee denied the Israelis any jurisdiction to free the hostages. The IOC wanted these games to be peaceful. Bloodshed would tarnish the games – the first in Germany since before World War II – and the IOC and German government were committed to peaceful means to end the standoff.
The IOC offered limitless amounts of money to the Palestinian people and the hostage-takers. Black September refused the offer. Then a group of German commandos maneuvered their way to the top of the building where the athletes were being held, hoping to slide into the ventilation systems and shoot the terrorists.
But the commandos were not well trained for this scenario and the terrorists watched every one of their moves on television. They were prepared for a breach.
Later in the evening, the hostages were taken to FÃ¼rstenfeldbruck airport, where a jet waited to take the terrorists to any destination they chose. But when they boarded the plane there were no captains or flight personnel who could get the plane airborne.
Then the shooting erupted. As we all can hear in our mind’s ear, Jim McKay told the watching world, “Our worst fears are realized. They are all gone.”
Less than four years later, in an airport in Entebbe, Uganda, an Air France plane that was hijacked with more than 100 Jewish and some Israeli passengers landed. The passengers were held for a high ransom, including the release of prisoners in Israeli prisons. A daring rescue mission led by elite forces in the Israeli military stormed the terminal, rescued 102 hostages, and flew them home to Israel. Sadly, the unit commander, Yoni Netanyahu, was killed in the raid.
Israel learned a valuable lesson the hard way. It would not allow its citizens’ fate to be entrusted to others. These two well-known narratives of modern Israel – Munich and Entebbe – demonstrate that painful lesson, gleaned from experience and tears: We are most often best served when we are the architects of our own fate.
Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry, a stalwart supporter of Israel during his tenure as senator, claimed that the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority failed because the Israeli government did not release 400 prisoners, some of whom had blood on their hands, from incarceration. Mr. Kerry has been indomitable in his pursuit of peace. He has been to the region more in a short span of time than any of his predecessors. I do not know the secretary personally but I have not questioned once the sincerity of his motives, which is to make a lasting peace for all parties.
I celebrate him and his tireless efforts.
Still, the “release of prisoners” has turned into a benign phrase that has little implication for the outside world. Just a few years ago, 1,000 prisoners were released in return for one Jewish soul. The mastermind and the driver for the Park Hotel massacre, which happened in Netanya on Passover, were among those freed prisoners. The mother of a dear friend and a member of our community was one of the 30 people who were murdered while at a seder. Each of these prisoners, reunited with their families, mirror Israeli homes, whose voids can never be filled.
Mind you, the release of these prisoners would have to be accompanied with a freeze on settlement building in all disputed territories. That means in practical terms that if you live in Ariel or Efrat or Maale Adumim – areas that always have been part of Israel in every negotiation – and you had another child and had to build a temporary wall to create another bedroom in your apartment, or if wanted to lay down pavers for your patio, or if SodaStream wanted to add another place of prayer at its factory, it would be forbidden. In return for this release and this freeze, the Israeli government would earn the right only to future negotiations.
There was no offer of agreement on Jerusalem, borders, security, or the right of return. It only brings the Palestinians to the table, but no conditions are put upon them at all.
It is hardly an equitable proposal.
After the second intifada, Ariel Sharon unilaterally decided to erect a division wall between Israel and the Palestinian villages that were fertile areas for homeâ€“grown terror. (By unilaterally, I mean that he did not have the sanction or approval of outside governments.) The wall stands, and the world condemns it. But crime in Israel dropped 97 percent as a result of its existence. All crime. Carjackings and rape and burglaries, along with suicide bombings, all fell precipitously.
When we leave our fate in the hands of others, our best interests are not always met, even when those others have the best of intentions. I am confident that the IOC and the German government did not want bloodshed. They did not relish the loss of Jewish life on German soil. Nor do I think that Secretary Kerry wants anything but peace in the region, and a permanent homeland for both Israel and the Palestinians, where they can live peacefully side-by-side. When we put our fate in the hands of the other, however, our best interests are not always achieved.
There isn’t a reasonable soul who does not want peace. Nevertheless, our psyche has been scorched by architects who have no plans to live in the structure they are building. The best designers are those who understand the abode they are building and know how it will be used.
In order to make outcomes more like Entebbe, we must be the architects of our own fate. May we be the architects of our own fate, and may that design be worthy of a strong and lasting peace, brought on by ourselves and celebrated by our friends and supporters.