Edward Rothstein reviews Steven Speilberg's new movieMunich in Monday's New York Times. It appears he didn't care for the film, alleging that Speilberg's treatment of terrorism - "a violent and extreme reaction to injustice - the last resort of the oppressed" - both lends a justification to terrorism and oversimplifies the problem of ending it. The thing is, Mr. Rothstein seems to be doing much of the same in his own review.
Mr. Rothstein suggests that the idea of terrorism as a response to injustice is never applied to right-wing terrorism - he cites the bombing of the Oklahoma federal building as an example. But I think that he's wrong here. While some talk about terrorism as a response to injustice, I think more often people talk about terrorism as a response to perceived injustice. In that case the idea most certainly applies to right-wing terrorists such as McVeigh, and I think that those interested in talking about the causes of terrorism in a non-ideological manner will recognize that.
Whether or not terrorism is a response to an injustice - perceived or real - is really beside the point, though. Terrorism is really simply an attempt to coerce or intimidate in order to acheive a political end; preceding injustices can always be manufactured defend such acts - just ask Joseph
Goebbels or LBJ.
Rothstein goes on to question the cycle of violence, claiming that Speilberg paints Isreal as overreacting and causing decades of continued killing:
The elimination of context makes the Israeli response seem intemperate, while all future acts of Palestinian terror are treated as if they were responses to the Israeli assassinations. But as the historical Meir well knew, in the years before Munich, maniacal terrorists aligned with the Palestinian cause had bombed a Swissair jet, thrown hand grenades into crowds at Israel's airport, hijacked planes and associated themselves with other terror groups trained and partly financed by the Soviet Union. These, like the attacks that followed Munich, were part of a continuing war, not evidence of an amorphous cycle of violence that developed out of Israel's attempts to undermine terror.
Mr. Rothstein is correct that Munich was not the first incident of Palestinian terrorism, but the idea that Israel was an innocent party pushed to a breaking point is also ahistorical. After all, Israel was born of violence. In 1923, 25 years before the founding of the state of Israel, Zionist Ze'ev Jabotinsky wrote in Ha'aretz Daily
".... Settlement can thus develop under the protection of a force that is not dependent on the local population, behind an IRON WALL which they will be powerless to break down. ....a voluntary agreement is just not possible. As long as the Arabs preserve a gleam of hope that they will succeed in getting rid of us, nothing in the world can cause them to relinquish this hope, precisely because they are not a rubble but a living people. And a living people will be ready to yield on such fateful issues only when they give up all hope of getting rid of the Alien Settlers. Only then will extremist groups with their slogan 'No, never' lose their influence, and only then their influence be transferred to more moderate groups. And only then will the moderates offer suggestions for compromise. Then only will they begin bargaining with us on practical matters, such as guarantees against PUSHING THEM OUT, and equality of civil, and national rights."
Certainly Jabotinsky does not represent the views of all Israelis, but that does not erase the history of terrorist violence perpetrated by Israelis. After all, Israelis and Palestinians had been terrorising each other for 24 years before the Munich killings. Mr. Rothstein, however, only remembers one side of the violence.
Nothing can excuse the actions of the terrorist murderers who committed the terrorist acts in Munich in 1972. Steven Speilberg's film may not do justice to the incident, but Mr. Rothstein's review does justice neither to those who have died as a result of violence in Israel/Palestine nor to Mr. Speilberg's film. The Israel-Palestine conflict is one of the great problems with no good solutions. Historical revisionism, though, only fuels the fire.