Upon my first visit to Munich in the summer of 1992, I immediately proceeded to the infamous apartment block of the Olympic village where the 11 Israel athletes were kidnapped 20 years earlier. I was shocked to discover that only a small stone monument stood there to commemorate their slaughter, erected not by the German government but by Israel's.

One would think that an event as tragic as the massacre at Munich would deserve a powerful memorial for the entire world to see, but both the German government and the International Olympic Committee have yet to erect a proper monument for the 11 innocent victims. It is for this reason that, whatever flaws exist in "Munich," Steven Spielberg's enormously compelling film about the massacre and its aftermath, he is to be lauded for finally doing justice to the memory of those 11 brave Israeli athletes.

The world mistakenly believed that Munich was a Jewish tragedy when really it was an international one. It was the first time that terrorism was brought front and center onto the world stage. The Jewish people have often been like a canary in a coal mine; what afflicts them later comes affliction the whole world. All too often, however, Jewish life has been treated with such callous disregard by the rest of the world that the affliction itself is disregarded. When the Jews were first persecuted by the Catholic Church, no one foresaw that religious oppression and religious war would become a driving theme of European history. When Hitler began to persecute the Jews, no one expected he could suck the entire world into his homicidal vortex. And when world terrorism began to afflict Israel, no one foresaw 9/11 and the terrorist attacks against European capitals.

Many Jewish commentators have criticized "Munich," believing that it establishes a moral equivalency between the cold-blooded murder of 11 innocent men and Israel's hunting down of the terrorist leaders. But I did not see that comparison strongly emphasized in the film. On the contrary, Spielberg shows very accurately how Israeli agents are never allowed to take a life until they've clearly established the identity of the person they're targeting, very often risking their lives to make sure they're correct, even comparing the intended victim with an actual photograph. He also shows how careful Israel is never to create collateral damage.

It is true that Spielberg makes the point, particularly in the speech given by the Israeli Mossad bomb-maker, that Jews are the peaceful People of the Book who ought not to become like their enemies by taking lives. This is, of course, an absurd argument, implying that Jewish lives are worthless--in the eyes of the world and in Jews' own eyes--and that one ought to be able to take a Jewish life without repercussions because the Jews are way too moral to strike out against those who plot their demise. The Talmud clearly establishes that one who comes to murder you must first be killed themselves. Those who have devoted their lives to killing innocent people have erased the image of G-d from their countenances and have therefore erased their right to life.

I have been a rabbi since I was 21 years old, and I would like to believe that I have devoted my life to a G-dly calling. Yet I have absolutely no compunction in saying that the killing of a terrorist awakens in me not a single pang of conscience. I do not celebrate his demise, nor do I revel in it. We Jews have never rejoiced in the death of even the most wicked of men. Israel has no military parades to celebrate its many victories. We do not fight because we choose to be a warring nation or because there is glory in war. We fight out of sheer moral necessity. Human life is precious, and if we do not stop those who wish to take it, we thereby unwittingly declare our contempt for this most precious of all gifts.

Well-meaning people like Steven Spielberg must understand that there are three, rather than two, moral categories: the good, the bad, and the necessary. Killing terrorists is not a necessary evil; it is simply necessary. Spielberg tries to make the argument that the killings after Munich did not change anything because more people ended up joining the ranks of the terrorists. It's the same argument people use today about Iraq--that there will never be an end to the fighting because whatever terrorists America eliminates, 20 more take their place. But this is a hollow argument because it overlooks the fact that so many innocent lives are saved when terrorist masterminds are neutralized for even a limited period of time. Their plans are disrupted, and until they regroup, attacks cannot be carried out. The fact that more terrorists later come and kill other innocents does not in any way contradict the fact that thousands of lives are saved in the interim.

Just because we still can't cure cancer does not mean that the efforts of 10 years ago to defeat the disease were wasted. Just because we may never stop terrorism does not mean that we should ever fail in the moral imperative never to disengage from the battle. And just because evil continues to stalk the earth, we dare not lessen our resolve to continually fight it, even if as yet we cannot completely defeat it.

_Related Features
  • 'Munich' Review: Empty Thrills
  • Furor Over 'Munich'
  • Share Your Thoughts
  • more from beliefnet and our partners
    Close Ad