NCC offers Baptist Ethics Center's 'Munich'
film resource guide for churches
Click here to download the "Munich" guide.
The Baptist Center for Ethics, home of the web service EthicsDaily.com, has produced an on-line resource to help people in faith communities explore ideas of vengeance and peacemaking in a recently-released film about the terrorist murders of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Germany. The 8-page study guide is being offered on the National Council of Churches website to assist in wide ecumenical distribution.
EthicsDaily.com Culture Editor Cliff Vaughn says the release of Steven Spielberg's "Munich," which opened on Dec. 23, provides an opportunity to crack open both history books and the Bible.
While the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are still fresh in the minds of Americans, Vaughn said, the attack on Israeli athletes on Sept. 5, 1972, "has been ignored by some and forgotten by others." A new generation of Americans likely would never have heard of the incident, Vaughn said, had Spielberg not put it on film.
On that day in September, eight members of a Palestinian splinter group known as Black September infiltrated the Olympic Village at the Munich Olympic Games and took 11 Israelis hostages. The terrorists killed two of them almost immediately, and the remaining nine were killed when German officials botched a rescue operation.
Five of the eight terrorists were also killed, but the three survivors were eventually freed by the Germans in a shady hostage-negotiation circumstance.
After the attacks, the Israeli government launched a counter-terrorist operation allegedly known as "Wrath of God." Israel's intelligence agency, the Mossad, oversaw the targeted killings of Palestinian terrorist masterminds.
That counter-terrorist initiative is the subject of "Munich," which Spielberg treats with moral concern. His approach has drawn controversy, as some viewers believe he portrays the Mossad agents having doubts about their mission where none existed.
Vaughn, who has a doctorate in American culture studies, said he believes Christians should be talking as much about the Spielberg film as they are about the blockbuster film version of C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe."
"The land of Narnia is interesting, but no more interesting than the land of our own Middle East, Vaughn said. "We must try to understand what is and what has been going on."
To facilitate such thoughtful dialogue and guide individuals to consider ways Christians should respond to acts of terrorism and violence, the Baptist Center for Ethics is offering its free resource on the film as a downloadable eight-page PDF file.
"Munich: A Discussion Guide on Terrorism and Peacemaking," includes a link to the film's official Web site; background information about the Sept. 5, 1972, Palestinian terrorist attack on Olympic Village in Munich, Germany, and Israel's counter-terrorism move; more about the controversy surrounding this film; and a series of discussion questions groups can use after viewing the film. Also included are links to other free resources on EthicsDaily.com related to the film.
"As Spielberg himself has said, 'Munich' won't solve the world's problems," said Vaughn. "But it's an opportunity for us, controversy aside, to consider our own philosophies about terrorism, peace, preemptive violence and, I suppose, love."
Click here to download the "Munich" guide.
Contact NCC News, Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2252, email@example.com, or The Baptist Center for Ethics/EthicsDaily.com, Nashville, Tenn., Bob Allen, 615-383-3192, firstname.lastname@example.org .
Terrorism and Peacemaking
Movie Web Site:
Release Date in United States and Canada: Dec. 23, 2005
Baptist Center for Ethics
All Photographs Copyright Universal Pictures 2005
On September 5, 1972, eight Palestinian terrorists who were part of the “Black
September” organization infiltrated Olympic Village in Munich, Germany. They
took 11 Israeli athletes hostage, killing two almost immediately.
As the terrorists negotiated with German officials for the release of hundreds of
Palestinian prisoners, they continued to hold the Israeli athletes hostage.
Television networks already had reporters and camera crews in place to cover
the Olympic Games, allowing much of the world to watch these events unfold in
what became the first live televised terrorist attack. Reporters including ABC
Sports’ Jim McKay, ABC News’ Peter Jennings and ITN’s Gerald Seymour
provided ongoing coverage.
Their demands unmet, the terrorists hoped to leave the country with their
hostages. German authorities intervened and attempted to rescue the Israelis,
thwarting the Palestinians’ escape. The rescue attempt failed, however, and the
nine athletes, a German police officer and five of the terrorists were killed.
German authorities held the three surviving terrorists for more than a month but
released them after more Palestinian terrorists hijacked a Lufthansa jet.
In a counter-terrorist move, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir instructed agents of
Israel’s intelligence agency, known as Mossad, to find and destroy the terrorists
responsible for the Munich attack.
Why This Movie Matters to People of Faith
Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Spielberg called the Munich attack
and the Israeli response “a defining moment in the modern history of the Middle
usually think about only in political or military terms. By experiencing how the
implacable resolve of these men to succeed in their mission slowly gave way to
troubling doubts about what they were doing, I think we can learn something
important about the tragic stand-off we find ourselves in today.”
“Hindsight into such historic events is
easy,” he said. “What’s not so easy is
to try to see things as they must have
looked to people at the time. Viewing
Israel’s response to Munich through the
eyes of the men who were sent to
avenge that tragedy adds a human
dimension to a horrific episode that we
Spielberg’s film, with a December 23, 2005 scheduled release, focuses on the
aftermath of the Munich attacks, following the Mossad agents assigned to track
down and assassinate the 11 Palestinians thought to be behind the attack at the
According to advance word of mouth and statements by Spielberg, one of the
movie’s themes explores the usefulness of vengeance and the “eye for an eye”
Jesus completely overturned this approach, calling instead for his followers to be
peacemakers. Nevertheless, many people who claim to follow Jesus still support
that “eye for eye” philosophy, variously calling it justice or part of a policy of selfpreservation.
“Munich” goes to the heart of this thorny issue.
More About the Movie and Controversy
Criticism of the film began even prior to shooting, when it became known that
Vengeance, a book by George Jonas, was a pivotal source for the movie.
In Vengeance, Jonas tells the story of “Avner,” a man who claims to have been
the leader of the Israeli squad tasked with hunting down the Palestinian terrorists
responsible for the Munich attack. The book details hit after hit and the toll such
activities took on Avner and his counter-terrorist team.
In the book’s preface, Jonas said he corroborated Avner’s story in a variety of
other ways, verifying details as he could on his own, as well as talking to other
people. Jonas, as a matter of fact, still stands by his story.
Some time after the book was released, “Avner” was alleged to have been Yuval
Aviv, an intelligence expert who works in New York City. Neither Aviv nor Jonas
has ever commented on whether Aviv is Avner.
Others, however, find Vengeance virtually a work of fiction. Zvi Zamir, former
head of Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency), said he’s never heard of Aviv and
Steven Spielberg began principal
photography for “Munich” in Malta in
June 2005. He completed it by early
December on an amazingly fast
production and post-production
schedule, even by his own
standards (Spielberg is known for
shooting quickly and on-budget).
that the story of Avner as told in Vengeance is false. Others in Israel’s
intelligence community have disputed the book.
In a press release in July, Spielberg said “the implacable resolve” of members of
the counter-terrorist team “slowly gave way to troubling doubts about what they
Many observers immediately had trouble with Spielberg’s reference to “troubling
doubts.” In their thinking, Israel was justified in its response, and at no point in
the counter-terrorist initiative did “troubling doubts” ever arise. (To this day, Israel
has never formally accepted responsibility for the deaths of 10 Palestinian
terrorists who were killed in a variety of scenarios, including gunfire and boobytraps.)
Now that the film has had advance screenings across the globe, more
substantiated opinions have been coming in. Time movie critic Richard Schickel
calls the film “a very good movie,” and Fox News calls “Munich” the “best movie
Others, however, aren’t buying it. Ehud Danoch, Consul General of Israel in Los
Angeles, says the film incorrectly draws moral equivalency between the Black
September terrorists and the Mossad agents responsible for the reprisals. Author
Jack Engelhard concludes that “Spielberg is no friend of Israel.”
Spielberg is of course the director of “Schindler’s List,” which won the Academy
Award for Best Picture in 1994. That film, based on a book by Thomas Keneally,
tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a gentile who uses his position in the Nazi
party to save more than 1,000 Jews from extermination during World War II. After
that film, Spielberg founded the Shoah Project, which archives testimonies of
Some critics say that while Spielberg may be pro-Jewish, he is not pro-Israel,
and they’re already pointing to “Munich” as exhibit A in that argument. Though
Spielberg has said very little publicly about this film, he has said that he supports
Israel’s right to defend itself.
Spielberg has also commented (see his statement quoted earlier) that he hopes
issues raised in “Munich” will help contemporaries find a pathway through the
Thus, Spielberg’s movie, crediting
Vengeance as a source, comes with
built-in controversy. The movie is also
a lightning rod because Spielberg
portrays the Israelis charged with
hunting down and killing the
Palestinians as having doubts about
violence that still plagues the world. Thus, some viewers see the movie as
Spielberg’s commentary on the war on terror, which further ignites opinion about
As Ivor Davis wrote in an article for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles,
"The subject matter virtually guarantees that the film will satisfy almost no one
with deep feelings about the subject or the politics of the Middle East."
The filmmakers call this movie a “dramatic exploration inspired by true events.”
Do you care how “accurate” this portrayal may be? Are you bothered by the fact
that the book (Vengeance) on which the movie is based has been criticized for
relying on a questionable source?
In the movie, Prime Minister Golda Meir says, “Every civilization finds it
necessary to negotiate the compromises with its own values.” What does she
mean? Do you agree with that statement?
Do you think Steven Spielberg is implying that Israel’s counter-terrorist initiative
was a mistake?
Are revenge, retribution and counter-terrorist attacks ever good ideas? Can they
be forms of justice? How?
Are vengeful attacks ethical? Do they ever resolve anything?
How should followers of Jesus respond if their understanding of the pathway to
peace varies sharply from public opinion or governmental policy?
Does counter-terrorism stop terrorism or further encourage it?
What is a response to acts of wanton savagery? What is a Christian response?
Read Matthew 5:38-42. What did Jesus say about retaliatory violence?
Is Jesus' command to resist evil limited to passive resistance? Was his command
to go a second mile (Matthew 5:41), when a hated Roman soldier forced a Jew to
carry his military pack, a way to transform the relationship between an occupying
oppressor and the oppressed?
What evidence do you find in Matthew 5:39-42 that Jesus expects us to take
positive actions in the interest of the aggressor?
Read Matthew 5:43-48. Do you agree that love of God and love of neighbor form
the basis upon which we understand and interpret all of Jesus' other commands?
Is Jesus' command to love everyone, even enemies, abstract or concrete?
Do we sometimes make Jesus' transforming initiatives of peacemaking private,
personal and individual matters as a way to justify state-sponsored violence?
Wasn't Jesus' teaching aimed at transforming social relationships between Jews
and Samaritans (Luke 10:33-37), enemies within communities (Matthew
7:4) and Romans and Jews (Matthew 5:41)?
How can we simultaneously protect the weak and oppressed, pursue justice,
resist evil and demonstrate love to enemies and aggressors?
EthicsDaily.com has been covering Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” since the
summer of 2005. Coverage has included reviews of relevant books, movies and
documentaries, as well as articles about the controversy.
Full-text articles and reviews are available free of charge at the links below:
'Munich' Takes Early Criticism Despite Attempted Low Profile (Dec. 5, 2005)
This article looks at some of the criticism of the movie.
‘One Day in September’ (August 11, 2005)
A review of the book, One Day in September, published in 2000 to coincide with
the release of the documentary of the same name. The book is by terrorism
expert Simon Reeve and provides ample detail about the Munich attack and its
Title for Spielberg’s Film Hopes to Quell Controversy (July 27, 2005)
The movie, at least publicly, had no title for months. This story covers the
announcement of the movie’s title, “Munich.”
‘One Day in September’ (July 21, 2005)
This is a review of the award-winning documentary, which uses television
footage, interviews, photographs and more in its gripping account of the attack
on the Israeli athletes.
‘Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team’ (July 12, 2005)
This is a review of the book by George Jonas that serves as the basis for
Spielberg’s film. The book is especially notable given the fact that its source—a
man named Avner—has been discredited by many officials. Author Jonas stands
by his account.
‘Sword of Gideon’ (June 29, 2005)
Two years after Jonas’ book was published, HBO produced a TV movie about
the Israeli counter-terrorist team using Jonas’ book as its source as well. Here we
review that HBO movie.
Spielberg Making Film About 1972 Munich Attack (June 27, 2005)
This is our first story about Spielberg making the film.