The plan to take Israeli athletes hostage during the 1972 Munich Olympic Games was conceived at a cafe on the Piazza della Rotonda in Rome, in the shadow of the Pantheon and the tomb of Raphael. Sitting at an outdoor table were three PLO officials, Salah Khalaf, Faqri al-Umari and Muhammad Audeh, whose respective noms de guerre–Abu Iyad, Abu Muhammad and Abu Daoud–carried, until not so long ago, considerable weight. The sole surviving member of the triumvirate, Abu Daoud, recently published the first volume of his memoirs, in French and Arabic.
The product is exceptional, thanks largely to Abu Daoud’s divulging of original information. When secretive former operatives confess, they often admit to more than politicians, who generally regard the truth as unsafe. Abu Daoud, once considered among the more sinister of Palestinian officials, believes he can admit to what he did because he has mouthed the proper password: He accepts the Oslo process, though with reservations. As he sees it, his book serves, in this context, a useful design: “Our past is what it is. However, one must also know what constitutes it, so as not to repeat the same errors in the future, or the same tragedies. That is why I also consider that a real peace cannot be built on information that remains obscure to this day.”
For the moment, the information has yet to appear in the United States. Abu Daoud’s memoir is to be published by Arcade Books, with a publication date loosely set for next summer. Craig Offman, writing in the online magazine Salon, noted that the book’s preparation has already agitated the publishers, Richard and Jeannette Seaver, who claim that on a visit to Israel they were shadowed. The pair has reported receiving daily telephone calls and letters from people outraged that the mastermind of Munich might have his say. One fears that if the work proves too much of a nuisance, the American public may be spared the affront of ever contemplating it.
Of course, that outcome would be downright insolent, given that just about every leading player on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide has something to conceal. In the constellation of transfigured PLO militants, one need not reach so elevated a summit as Yasir Arafat to gauge the magical powers of redemption provided by the willingness of Palestinians to live in a smattering of West Bank and Gaza hamlets. Recall that Israeli President Ezer Weizman made time at the funeral of King Hussein of Jordan to shake the hand of Nayef Hawatmeh, leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and formerly one of the most ferociously intransigent of Palestinian leaders.
But Munich was singularly reprehensible, many might persist. The quarries were, after all, civilians and, worse, athletes. In that case something must be done to discipline Abu Daoud’s close friend Mahmoud Abbas. He is the gentleman who placed his signature on the Oslo accords, watched by millions of moved television viewers, who couldn’t have imagined for one second that it was he, Abu Mazen, who financed the Munich operation. Oddly, there was no fracas when his memoirs were issued.
Nor was there dissent when Ariel Sharon published his martial reminiscences. And who can forget Shimon Peres? Surely the fact that his cannoneers killed more than 100 civilians at Qana during the Grapes of Wrath operation against Lebanon in 1996 merited an irate phone call or two ordering his The New Middle East banned from public-library shelves. One can move on, deeper into extravagance. But that would be missing the point that the reconciliation favored by Palestinian and Israeli leaders today requires large measures of amnesia.