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Understanding the conflict
By Peter Jennings
Special to ABC Sports Online

Peter Jennings was a news correspondent for ABC Sports at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. With his knowledge of the Middle East, he played a prominent role during ABC's coverage of the events in Munich. He sat down with ABC Sports for its documentary "Our Greatest Hopes, Our Worst Fears: The Tragedy of the Munich Games". Here is a transcript of what he had to say.

The Israeli-Palestinian struggle was in the wake of the 1967 [Occupation of the West Bank] and had been developing as a more focused feature of the struggle in the Mideast.

Black September was a truly ferocious fight between the forces of King Hussein, the Jordanian army and Yasir Arafat, then head of Fatah and the PLO. He was the single most important person in the Palestinian leadership, as he is today. And the Palestinians had suffered losses in terms of a movement in Jordan. They weren't very popular. The Palestinians were struggling very hard all the time to get the world's attention. They wanted very much to tell the world they had a case to make and a legitimate cause.

Yasir Arafat
Yasir Arafat has been the most important person in the Palestinian movement for more than three decades.
They'd gone about it in some pretty strange ways because, on the one hand, you had Palestinian intellectuals who could debate their cause anytime, anywhere and were much appreciated because of their ability to put things in an intellectual way. And then you had those organizations like the PFLP and the PDFLP, who believed that the way to get attention for their cause was, to some extent, punish Israel, and to a lesser extent, punish the United States. So we had the hijacking of all the planes to Dawson's Field in Jordan, which was the biggest event before Black September and Munich.

As reporters, we ran from Palestinian story to Palestinian story to Palestinian story. They were fighting with the Lebanese and had been since the 1967 war. You can go see the Palestinian leadership in Lebanon today in the same refugee camps they've been living in since the end of 1967, so there's no denying the frustrations, the disappointment, the anger and the aspirations in the Palestinian community. But when Black September came along and the attack in Munich came along, the whole thing changed.

I was in Munich to do all the non-sports features like the history of Germany and the residue of the Holocaust, and then this thing just exploded in our faces. It never occurred to me that the Mideast politics would follow me to Munich.

I believed covering the story, and particularly in the wake of the attack on the airplanes that were taken to Dawson's Field and hostages taken there -- though never harmed -- it made sense that the Palestinians would try something, although I couldn't believe it when I first heard it. I knew, as I think some of the reporters in the region did, that some of the Palestinians were determined to respond to the defeat they had suffered in Jordan.

It's hard for people sometimes to understand how consuming the struggle is for reporters. I had spent three years living and breathing the Palestinian-Israeli struggle, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and loving every moment of it. It's hard to explain to my friends in the States who are other reporters who are off covering Africa and Asia or Watergate at the time but that's the way it was.

Palestinians were amazingly accessible as they are today. Both the Israelis and Palestinians have always waged part of their struggle through the world's press and I knew that this was going to be on the front page day after day after this and I knew it would change things.

There had always been in the Palestinian movement this dark violent underside, which was by no means characteristic of the Palestinian community at large, which was determined to have revenge against the Israelis for the expulsion. Memories are so long that it's impossible to have a contemporary discussion about any issue or any act without having a discussion of where did it all begin.

The United States has tended to see the struggle through the Israeli prism and not the Palestinian prism. The Palestinians had struggled to be seen as something other than guerrillas and you used to hear that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. So there was no view of Palestinians that was universal.

This is what the Palestinians wanted. They wanted to be seen as people and I never understood why some of them felt violence would advance their cause. But violence did put them on the front page and subsequently led to more reporting about the conflict and it's sad, but a true fact that violence is sometimes effective.

Some elements in the Palestinian community believed they could and still believe they can (advance their cause though violence), so in some ways there is a connection between Israeli bombings in 2002 and an attack on Munich in 1972.

This is what the Palestinians wanted. They wanted to be seen as people and I never understood why some of them felt violence would advance their cause. But violence did put them on the front page and subsequently led to more reporting about the conflict and it's sad, but a true fact that violence is sometimes effective.

I think the world was so horrified by the violence and so surprised by the violence that the Palestinians who committed these acts did nothing for their cause except bring it attention. Subsequently, I think people realized there was a struggle and subsequently there was more reporting, but I think that this one act of violence by a small group of people so horrified the world that the Palestinians have forever after been seen by some, not by all, as irresponsible terrorists. I don't think it's an accurate portrait of Palestinians as a whole, but it's one that stuck.

I had been through hostage situations before, and I've been though hostage situations since. I'd never been involved in a hostage crisis where people died. We reported on the Stockholm Syndrome. I remember when Americans were released from a refugee camp outside Amman at the end of the attack on Dawson's Field and all the Americans said they'd been extremely well treated by the Palestinian hosts, or captors, so when the Israelis died in this orgasm of violence, that was very different.

One image stands out. The most dominant is the terrorist in the ski cap. The faceless enemy. Because as so often with terrorists, they can be on TV and you cannot penetrate their minds and their souls as represented by the ski cap.

In the chaos of the day, and the subsequent recriminations about whether the Games should continue, was the impact in Israel. We felt it was pretty important to get down what we could about what really happened. How much the world had changed and how much people's worlds had been changed.

We were not as accustomed in 1972 to watching tragedy on TV as we are today. As we subsequently were able to witness 9/11, the Challenger blowing up, but it was all so strange and so new, that it was indelible.

I remember thinking in 1972 that whatever the response to these attacks, it would not resolve the situation, and 30 years later, after the attack on the World Trade Center by Muslim extremists, President Bush has announced that the U.S. will back a provisional state if the Palestinians get rid of Yasser Arafat.

And again, it's not going to resolve the situation.  HELP |  ADVERTISER INFO |  CONTACT US |  TOOLS |  SITE MAP
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