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Munich - Controversy mounts

Eric Bana (right) in Munich

Story by Jack Foley

AS STEVEN Spielberg prepares to face criticism over his latest film he can at least count on support from some of the people directly related to the events it depicts.

Munich chronicles Israel’s retaliation for the Palestinian attack on its team during the 1972 Munich Olympic, during which 11 athletes died. It stars Eric Bana as the leader of a team of Israeli agents assigned to hunt down and kill the Palestinians suspected of planning the Olympics assault.

Yet the film has already sparked a great deal of debate among those who claim that the book it is based in part on, Vengeance, is not true. The book in question is drawn from the purported confessions of a former assassin who claims he broke rank in protest against the retaliation policy.

Yet David Kimche, a former deputy director of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, has gone on record to say: . “I think it is a tragedy that a person of the stature of Steven Spielberg, who has made such fantastic films, should have based this film on a book that is a falsehood.”

Spielberg himself has maintained a low-profile in the run-up to the film’s December 23 release in the US, insisting that it should be allowed to speak for itself without the need for too much publicity.

But he has shown the film to the widow of a slain athlete, Ilana Romano, whose weightlifter husband, Yosef, was the first Israeli sportsman gunned down during the guerrilla raid.

After attending a special screening in Tel Aviv along with fellow widow, Ankie Spitzer, she commented: “For me, it was important that the film does no dishonour to the memory of the murdered athletes, nor to the image of the State of Israel. Both my criteria were satisfied.”

Nevertheless, as the film prepares for world-wide release over the coming months, the controversy surrounding it only looks set to intensify, particularly as Israel remains locked in conflict with Palestinians some 30 years on and especially since Israel has never formally acknowledged responsibility for the series of shootings, explosive booby-traps and cross-border commando raids that killed 10 Palestinians linked to Black September, the group behind the Munich atrocity.

This campaign included the killing of a Moroccan waiter in Norway in 1973, who was mistaken for Black September’s leader. It led to six members of the Israeli hit team being prosecuted for murder and Israel eventually paying compensation to the victim’s family.
Spielberg has also hinted that he is aware of the film’s relevance to contemporary events – most notably the US ‘war on terror’ since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

The film is due to open in the UK in January.