Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

British Envoy After Munich Attack: Let’s ‘put Ourselves in Their Shoes’


A British diplomat in Jerusalem showed sympathy for the Palestinian terrorists who kidnapped and killed Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, newly declassified documents show.

“Before we reproach the Arabs too much, perhaps we might try to put ourselves in their shoes,” Britain’s highest-ranking diplomat in Jerusalem wrote less than a week after the terrorist operation that led to the death of 11 Israeli athletes.

The Palestinians “have seen their land taken away from them by a group of mainly European invaders equipped with superior armed force and modern technology,” the diplomat, Consul General Gayford Woodrow, wrote.

His official dispatch to the Foreign Office was made public Jan. 1 under rules that declassify most British government documents after 30 years.

An Israeli Embassy spokeswoman in London said the dispatch, quoted in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, was “appalling if it’s accurate.”

She said the embassy had not seen the original document.

Woodrow wrote his report to London on Sept. 12, 1972, six days after a group of eight Palestinian terrorists attacked Israeli athletes at the Olympic village in what was then West Germany.

Two Israelis were killed in the attack and nine more were taken hostage. The terrorists demanded the release of 200 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Israel refused, and German police stormed the terrorists at a Munich airport. Five Palestinians were killed and three were captured, but not before the terrorists killed the nine remaining Israeli captives.

In Jerusalem, Woodrow expressed admiration for the terrorists’ performance.

“Whatever one’s moral criticism, it must be agreed that the Munich operation was well planned and that the Arabs there carried it out to the bitter end. It is said that lives were really lost because of Israel and West German bungling incompetence,” he wrote.

Woodrow’s superior, James Craig, expressed mild criticism of the diplomat’s report.

“Not bad but he goes just a little too far,” Craig wrote on the letter.

The British Foreign Office declined to speak to JTA about the issue. A spokesman said the department does not comment on material from previous administrations.

A British special forces report on the event said the Germans had used the wrong kind of gun in the shootout. A quieter weapon would have been more appropriate for the ambush at a Munich airport, the report concluded.

A month later, another British diplomat cautioned against condemning the Palestinian hijacking of a Lufthansa flight from Beirut to Frankfurt.

“Before we shed too many tears about the Lufthansa hijacking,” wrote David Gore-Booth, a first secretary at the Foreign Office, “it would be as well to ask ourselves what the implications are so far as the Arab/Israel dispute is concerned.

“What the hijacking does is to remind the international community that the Palestine problem exists,” he wrote.

Hence Israel’s “apoplectic reaction to the hijacking,” his report continued.

“It also provides” the Israelis “with an excellent opportunity to slip into Syria, bomb a few more bases and kill a few more innocent people with impunity. Deplorable though the hijacking may be it caused the loss of no lives,” while “casualties in Syria may be as many as 45 or even more.”

Recommended from JTA