|One of the key things that piqued my interest
as a filmmaker was the morbid connection between sport and murder. In some ways,
the Munich massacre was the ultimate transgression: the destruction of an ideal
of peace and brotherhood. But as we are now only too well aware, the Olympic movement
is not as pure as snow, nor was it ever. In fact Avery Brundage, President of
the IOC in 1972, was instrumental in the success of the 1936 so-called Nazi Olympics,
persuading the US delegation to attend in the face of political opposition. He
was friendly with Hitler and - in perhaps the first recorded case of IOC bribery
- his construction company in the US was given the contract to build the new Germany
embassy in Washington as a reward for his help. There is, in other words, a cynical,
even sinister aspect to a sporting event like the Olympics (and perhaps even to
the sportsmen and women who take part) that I was interested in exploring. |
From the outset I wanted One Day in September to tell the story of Munich from every perspective, including that of the Palestinians. My initial enquiries directed at official PLO sources met with a stony silence. I was not even sure if anyone was left alive. I heard rumours that one, none or all three of the Palestinian survivors of Munich were alive, perhaps in Latin America, the Gulf or Africa. But through a series of lucky meetings (which I am reluctant to go into in too much detail, for obvious reasons), I found myself in contact with a Palestinian who knew all about the three survivors because he had grown up with them in the Chatila camp in Beirut. This man was able to tell me definitively that only one, Jamal al Gashey (his real name, like that of his colleagues, was not previously known) was still alive. The other two terrorists had been killed by the Israelis in the late seventies. He took me to meet their families, and the families of other members of the Black September squad. Many of them were still living in refugee camps.
Then, over the next six months my contact tried to persuade Jamal to emerge from hiding and talk. We argued that only by confronting his past would he ever be able to escape it. Now was the time to talk, as the monumental tide of peace rolled in slowly but inevitably over the Middle East. He agreed. Several meetings were arranged and canceled at the last moment. Twice I flew to destinations in the Middle East to rendezvous with him and he did not show up. Finally, in May last year, Jamal traveled to Aman to do the interview. He was deeply paranoid and found it very difficult talking publicly about what he had done. With frequent diversions, tantrums and non-sequitirs, it took almost 8 hours to record only 30 minutes of usable interview.
To Palestinians Black September was September 1970 when King Hussein of Jordan took up arms against the unruly Palestinian militias based in his country, killing over 4,000 and expelling the remainder. Taking its name from this event the terrorist organisation Black September initially concentrated on revenge against the Jordanian regime. In Cairo on 28th September 1971 Black September assassins shot dead Wasfi Tell, the Jordanian Prime Minister, afterwards kneeling down beside their victim to lick up his blood. Three weeks later the group made an attempt on the life of Jordan's ambassador in London. But before long, Black September broadened its targets: a Sabena airliner en-route to Israel was hi-jacked and an oil pipeline in Trieste sabotaged. Munich was to be the culmination of the organizations increasingly spectacular operations.
Black September had a reputation as an organisation where extreme secrecy and extreme violence went hand in hand. Until recently little was known for certain about the group. It is hard to say to what degree the group ever existed as an autonomous force separate from Fatah, the main party in the PLO, led by Yasser Arafat. Even today, Fatah and the PLO deny involvement in Black September and all its operations, but this claim now seems highly improbable. Abu Daoud, the Black September commander most closely involved with setting up the Munich operation, admitted to the filmmakers that Black September was merely the cover name adopted by members of Fatah when they wanted to carry out terrorist acts, but did not want the party's name besmirched. Daoud even recalled how Arafat and Abu Mazen (now seen as Arafat's natural successor) both wished him luck and kissed him when he set about organising Munich. The de facto leader of Black September (and the man who personally carried the arms into Germany that were used in Munich) was Abu Iyad, Arafat's long-time deputy.
Many of those suspected (sometimes wrongly) of being involved in Black September, were subsequently killed by Israeli assassins. Amongst the last to die was Abu Iyad, killed while the PLO were resident in Tunis. Abu Daoud, despite several attempts on his life, is still alive. After the Oslo accord, he was even allowed by the Israelis to live in the West Bank city of Ramalah. Recently, in part thanks to the research for One Day in September, the German authorities have issued an international arrest warrant for him. His current whereabouts is unknown, although rumours place him in either Cuba or Syria.
Of the three terrorists who survived Munich only one is still alive today: Jamal Al Gashey. His two comrades (including his uncle Adnan al Gashey) were both killed in the late seventies by the Israelis. Today Jamal still lives in hiding, under the strictest security, somewhere in Africa with his wife and two daughters. Although officially Israel called off all illegal assassination squads as part of the Oslo accord, he still lives in fear of his life.