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Amid Olympics glee, Israeli 'Munich Massacre' families request moment for grief

Families of the 11 Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics are campaigning for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony, but Olympics organizers have so far refused.

By Ben LynfieldCorrespondent / July 24, 2012

President of the International Olympic Commission, Jacques Rogge, signs his name on a Truce Wall as he tours the Olympic Park in Stratford in east London on July 23. The International Olympic Committee paid a surprise tribute to the 11 Israeli team members who were killed at the 1972 Munich Games on Monday, marking the event for the first time in an Olympic village.

Toby Melville/Reuters

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Tel Aviv

The run-up to each Olympic Games is a time of anticipation and excitement for athletes, organizers, and fans worldwide. But for families of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches slain 40 years ago at the Munich Games by an arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization, it is also a period of struggle and grief. 

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The families have worked for more than 35 years to commemorate the former Olympians at the Games, and this year, the 40th anniversary of the so-called Munich Massacre, their calls for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony have finally gained considerable support. Yesterday Jewish legislators from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil, and other countries wrote International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, urging a "moment of mercy" for the slain athletes at the opening ceremony. Even President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have backed the call. 

However, Mr. Rogge has stuck to his insistence that such a moment is not appropriate for the opening of the Games. "We feel the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident," he said at a recent press conference.

In what may have been a response to the mounting pressure on his organization, Rogge led an impromptu moment of silence yesterday in front of about 100 people in the athlete's village and paid tribute to the slain Olympians. But the families angrily dismissed the gesture as a "fig leaf" so that the IOC could avoid the larger commemoration and are vowing to continue their battle with the IOC.  

Ankie Spitzer, the widow of slain Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer, says that thanks to the petition and resolutions calling for a moment of silence from legislatures worldwide, the Israeli families feel they have made progress in their fight for a commemoration they say is necessary to accord a measure of closure for their grief. 

But in the poisoned atmosphere of Palestinian-Israeli relations, the Israeli request is seen by Palestinians as a political stunt. Leading Palestinian politicians oppose the moment of silence, viewing it as a ploy to cast Israel as the victim in the conflict and to distract attention from Israeli practices today, including the military occupation of the West Bank.

''They want to remind the world of what happened a long time ago, to show they were suffering, so that the world will focus on other issues and that they will not be seen as the aggressive side," says Hasan Khreisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council. "But the world knows they are the ones carrying out aggression against our people and our land."

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