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Thursday, November 27, 2014

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Boston attack rekindles Munich memories

Tags: Sports
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Dan Alon

When two bombs went off near the finish line at the Boston Marathon, Dan Alon immediately thought of another terrorist attack that marred a sporting event.

In 1972, Alon was a member of Israel’s fencing team at the Munich Olympic Games. Along with another fencer, two marksmen and a speed walker, he was in apartment two in the athletes’ residence when Palestinian Black September terrorists broke into apartments one and three, right next door, killed two Israelis and took the other nine hostage.

Their fate is well known: they were killed during a botched rescue attempt at a nearby airport.

Alon and the four others managed to escape. Now 68 and retired, Alon will be in Toronto on June 9 to tell his story at the Beth Tzedec Congregation at 7:30 p.m. He’ll be part of an event sponsored by Canadian Magen David Adom (CMDA) for Israel, which supports the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross. Renowned singer Michael Burgess will perform, and CMDA will make a special presentation to honour the Canadian team at this summer’s Maccabiah Games in Israel.

Though Alon lived through the Munich terrorist attack, “Boston brought back all the [dark] memories,” he said. “I still can’t understand how can they do something like this.”

A former fencing champion, Alon thought it was inconceivable that anyone would dare to mar an international event like the Olympics, whose hallmarks are goodwill and sportsmanship.

Before the Munich attack, he had mingled with athletes from scores of countries, including those from Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, with which Israel had no formal relations.

“We were discussing sports, never politics. We exchanged flags, pins and symbols,” he recalled.

When the terrorists attacked, “it was a big shock that any human being could do that. Three thousand years ago, they stopped war and violence at the time of the Olympics.”

Though decades have elapsed, he’s still not sure why the athletes in his apartment were spared.

“It’s a big dilemma, why they passed our apartment,” he said. “We heard shooting and discussed what to do. We were surrounded on all sides by terrorists.”

In the end, the athletes decided to make a run for it, one by one, through a garden. Their escape route was in the terrorists’ line of sight, but they didn’t shoot.

“I think it was luck, or destiny, or God’s finger, something like that,” he said.

“It was very tragic. There were very many dramatic moments from the time we heard the shooting and decided to escape and made the escape to seeing what would happen to our friends.”

Alon was only about 30 yards away when the terrorists, who had negotiated for helicopters to take them to a nearby military airbase and from there to Cairo, pushed and pulled the Israeli athletes to the choppers and bound them there.

They were taken to a military airport, where rescue efforts failed miserably. In the mayhem that ensued, the terrorists murdered all the Israeli hostages.

Alon recalls the shock of learning of their deaths. It remained to the survivors to pack their belongings and return them to their families.

Together with their slain compatriots, they flew back to Israel. “We went the same time. We came back the same time,” he said.

Thousands of Israelis were at the airport to meet the survivors and the slain.

Funerals took place on a Friday, Alon recalled, just before Rosh Hashanah. Almost immediately afterward, he attended a dinner on erev Rosh Hashanah.

“It was terrible. It was a very hard time in Israel.”

Later, Israel set out to avenge the murders by killing those who had a part in the massacre. It was Stephen Spielberg’s 2005 film Munich that prompted a renewed interest in the experiences of survivors. Alon and the others were approached and asked to recount their memories of the events.

Alon has written about it in his book, Munich Memoir, released last year.

As for Israel avenging the deaths, Alon said this: “I don’t like killing each other, but if you can’t bring them to trial, it’s the only way to fight terror. What can you do?”

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