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Munich Review: The Landmark of Morally Gray Grounds 

posted on: Apr 3, 2024

Munich‘s trailer

By: María Teresa Fidalgo-Azize | Arab American Contributing Writer 

Robert: We’re Jews, Avner. Jews don’t do wrong because our enemies do wrong. 

Avner: We can’t afford to be that decent anymore. 

Robert: I don’t know if we were ever that decent. Suffering thousands of years of hatred doesn’t make you decent. But we’re supposed to be righteous. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s Jewish. That’s what I knew that’s what I was taught and I’m losing it. I lose that and that’s everything. That’s my soul. 

Munich, Steven Spielberg

The 2005 film Munich directed by Steven Spielberg is an immodest display of the self-righteous violence engendered by vengeance, yet one unafraid of facing its bloodbath reflection: a disturbed consciousness. Based on the events of September 5th, 1972’s massacre at the Munich Olympics, where 11 members of the Israel Olympic team were killed by the Palestinian terrorist group Black SeptemberMunich dramatizes Israel’s retaliatory Operation Wrath of God. This operation, authorized by Prime Minister Golda Meir, consisted of employing covert assassination squads to murder those responsible of planning the Munich attack. Spielberg’s script, based on George Jonas’ Vengeance, inquires how the film’s protagonist, Avner Kaufman’s involvement in Operation Wrath of God as pledge of patriotic duty blurs the lines on the righteousness of vengeance, the limitations of morality and if fulfilled resentment ever leaves anything to be gained. Amidst an ongoing war in Gaza where the massacring of children is rationalized under the lenses of national protection, after almost two decades Munich grants space for exploring morality’s in-betweenness and how even our enemies carry a face, a story, and a truth of their own. 

Munich 1972 Attacks 

The 1972 Munich (West Germany) Olympics were designed as Die Heiteren Spiele (“The Cheerful Games”) part of an international campaign to rehabilitate Germany’s image from its Nazi past. The Olympics were previously hosted in Germany in 1936 in Berlin and were characterized by being an international platform for racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic propaganda. In direct contrast to this, Munich organizers focused on presenting a welcoming multi-cultural image of Munich, one de-militarized and non-confrontational to foreigners. 

The 1972 Munich Olympics began on August 26th. At 4:30 am on September 5, 1972, eight Palestinian members of Black September disguised as athletes entered the quarter of the Israeli team killing two Israelis and holding hostage nine others. The terrorists demanded the release of 236 prisoners, mostly Palestinians under Israeli custody. The surprise attack caught the German authorities unprepared, yet the Olympics continued to run its course [1]despite the building tension of the hostage situation. Prime Minister Golda Meir’s response was a resounding no — she would not negotiate with terrorists. 

At 3:24 am on September 6th, ABC sportscaster Jim McKay announced to a world audience: “They’re all gone”. As a result of a miscarried military operation by German forces —at the Munich air base where the hostages were to travel alongside the Black September members to Cairo —all Israeli hostages were killed. The Olympic Games were suspended for 34 hours. Despite overwhelming objections, the International Olympic Committee President, Avery Brundage insisted that the games continue. 

Munich:  Unfinished Business Meeting

            Built upon the framework of a cat and mouse thriller, Munich achieves conveying the experience on how Jewish people’s generational and historical trauma is inscribed with the fear of losing the possibility of a home. The film’s unrepentant explicitness in the representation of violence, a continuum human butchery, contrasts the sophistication in the movements and places Israeli counter-terrorist forces under Operation Wrath of God operate- retribution even when executed by men who were to be stateless and invisible [2] carried an outspokenness in their anger. The moral characterization of the leading characters, Avner (Eric Bana), Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciarán Hinds) and Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) refuses to portray a stalwart soldier, except for Steve, in the execution of their operations. Psychological assaults on allegiance to country or moral righteousness are questioned, thus burdening the physical and mental composure of those who carry out reprisal acts of justified violence.   

Avner: You people have nothing to bargain with. You’ll never get the land back. Y’all all die old men in refugee camps, waiting for Palestine. 

 Ali: We have a lot of children. They’ll have children. So, we can wait forever. And if we need to, we can make the whole planet unsafe for Jews. 

Avner: You kill Jews, and the world feels bad for them and thinks you animals. 

Ali: But the world will see they’ve made us animals. 

Munich, Steven Spielberg

Noted by both New York Times film critics, Lisa Schwarzbaum and Manhola Dargis, the scene where Avner and his team accidentally share a safe house with the PLO due to a communication error by their middleman/informant Louis, is the most thematically resounding in Spielberg’s message of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The conversation between Avner and Ali, the PLO leader — Avner and his team pretend to be members of European leftist organizations such as ETA— succinctly presents the irreconcilable nature between these two forces. Face-off between oppositional viewpoints is nothing novel to the thriller genre: the similarities between sworn enemies show the futility in their zero-sum game hatred. Nevertheless, here, in Spielberg’s Munich, the enemy designated as Palestinian is given a face which speaks both on the ugliness of his hatred but also of his destitution from a homeland. Bereft of an answer that quenches suffering or a reductive proclamation of moral equivalence, Munich intimates what Dargis writes as “blood has its cost, even bloodshed in righteous defense”.


Rejecting the consolation of truth as absolute, director Spielberg’s Munich is a step, maybe not as forward as to Palestinian-Israeli dialogue, but on critically exploring the gray zones of morality and the behavior accepted in defending a given principle. If Munich, twenty years ago braced accusations of being anti-Israeli and historically unsound, in today’s all or nothing cultural and political climate, the film most probability would not even be produced. After viewing the film twice, an echoing dread transpires: there is no closure awaiting at the end. Regardless of who pulls the trigger, every laid corpse weighs the same. 

Works Cited 

Dargis, Manohla. “An Action Film about the Need to Talk.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Dec. 2005,

Doubek, James. “50 Years Ago, the Munich Olympics Massacre Changed How We Think about Terrorism.” NPR, NPR, 4 Sept. 2022,

Luebering , J.E. “Munich Massacre .” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., Accessed 18 Mar. 2024

Schwarzbaum, Lisa. “The Best Movie about Israel and Gaza Now Came out 18 Years Ago.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Dec. 2023,

Spielberg, Steven, director. Munich. Universal Pictures, 2005. 

[1] The Olympic Press continued to televise the sport events through 11 monitors, while simultaneously three other monitors showed the building where Israelis were being taken hostage. The incongruence of these contrasting images has been heavily criticized as insensitive and inappropriate. This was also the first time in history, where a terrorist attack garnered international media attention and visibility. According to NPR’s article “50 Years ago, the Munich Olympics massacre changed how we think about terrorism”, 900 million people saw the unfolding of what  became another scar on German soil.  

[2] In the film, Avner and the other members of his team must renounce to their employment as Israeli employees, operating individually. This is done to give Israel the status of plausible deniability. 

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