It's an international conflict that continues every day, so frequently and distantly that we Americans hardly notice headlines describing dead children and tragic pictures featuring citizens weeping over photographs of their loved ones. Comparatively, we live in paradise.
Kevin MacDonald's latest documentary, One Day in September, is an icy account of the 1972 Munich Olympics. The games were supposed to be a chance for the Germans to apologize and make amends; as the 1936 Berlin Olympics were just another forum for Hitler to promote anti-Semitism. Instead, a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September captured 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and held them hostage while demanding the release of 200 Palestinian prisoners from the Israeli government. The conflict ended in the death of all 11 athletes.
It's a terribly graphic film, lingering on snapshots of bloody bodies and burning airplanes spliced with teary testimonials from the victims' loved ones. But, to be honest, this kind of violence is nothing we haven't seen before. What's really chilling is watching the way people dealt with the tragedy. Despite everyone's knowledge that 11 people were being held with guns to their heads within the Olympic Village, most contestants and observers didn't even flinch. In fact, just below the hotel room where the hostages were held, Olympic athletes and spectators were frolicking in the pool and sunbathing, seemingly oblivious to the violence taking place above them. The people who were paying attention treated it like a television drama, pushing for prime views and eating popcorn while gazing at the window of the suite.
More disturbing is the movie's ongoing political significance; that this same drama and consequent apathy on the part of the Western world is played out every day--not in Germany, but in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And here we are, sunbathing still.
For people like myself who love political scandals, you'll undoubtedly be riveted. But only because the story itself is riveting; McDonald fails to explore any of the larger political issues or place the conflict in contemporary politics. The film also has one crippling flaw: The documentary is incredibly one-sided. Obviously, the act of terrorism is a horrific one, and the Israeli athletes who were murdered were the victims of a sickening hatred. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is perpetuated by both sides; as recently as February 26 the EU approved $55 million to help Yassar Arafat cope with the financial impact of Israeli security measures.
MacDonald apparently waited 28 years to make this documentary in order to receive the testimonial of Jamal Al Gashey, the only surviving Palestinian terrorist present that day. In the beginning of his testimonial, he speaks very briefly about why he chose to become a terrorist, and MacDonald allows him perhaps one sentence--in which he describes feelings of alienation and desperation--to explain.
This is symptomatic of MacDonald's mistake. With an opportunity to actually speak with Al Gashey (it was Al Gashey's first public testimony since the event. He's now back in hiding in Africa) MacDonald had the chance to illuminate the political and social depth of the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He could've asked about his childhood as a refugee, or the reasons for his allegiance to Palestine. Instead, he choose to imply that there are no Israeli terrorists, only Palestinian monsters who are out to kill for no discernable reason.