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Israel Demands W. Germany Explain Why It Released Three Terrorists

October 31, 1972
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Foreign Minister Abba Eban told the Knesset this afternoon that Israel has demanded an explanation from the West German government as to why it freed the three surviving Munich terrorists yesterday in exchange for the passengers and crew of a hijacked Lufthansa airliner.

Eban, speaking softly but with barely concealed anger, contrasted Bonn’s strong resistance to terrorist demands last Sept. 5 with its speedy decision yesterday to give in to the hijackers. He said Israel was determined to get to the root of the apparent contradiction and demanded that Germany explain just what is its policy toward terrorism. The thrust of Eban’s statement to the Knesset was to place the blame squarely on the West German government for releasing the killers.

At noon today the Foreign Minister summoned the West German Ambassador, Jesco Von Putkammer, to the Foreign Ministry to hand him “a protest in the strongest possible language” against the release of the terrorists. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said later that Eban had expressed to the German envoy the “shock and dismay” of the people and the government of Israel over the release of the three terrorists who participated in the Sept. 5 slaying of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes at Munich. According to the spokesman, Eban stressed that the terrorists were “now free to kill again” and termed their surrender an affront to the memory of the Israeli sportsmen whom they murdered.”

Ambassador Von Putkammer told newsmen after his meeting with Eban that he understood how Israel felt but that Germany was not at war and its first consideration was to save the lives of the passengers and crew of the hijacked plane. He said Germany acted in accordance with international law and rejected the term “surrender.” A wave of indignation swept Israel today over the release of the three terrorists. (See separate story)


Eban said that while some of the details of yesterday’s events remain confused and contradictory, the fact is that the West Germans decided in principle to free the terrorists in return for the hijacked plane and its passengers. “Who knows which Israelis have been sentenced to death or injury as a result of their release,” he said. Eban asserted that the West Germans acted despite clear-cut warnings and appeals from the Israeli government, conveyed urgently by Ambassador Eliashiv Ben-Horin in Bonn, not to give in to the hijackers’ demands.

The Foreign Minister also disclosed that “Israel was not the only government that pleaded with the Germans not to give the terrorists their victory.” He did not identify the other governments. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said after Eban’s Knesset speech that Israel was not merely going through the motions of protocol to get an explanation of Bonn’s actions.


Eban gave the Knesset a detailed review of Israel’s efforts to get West Germany to resist the hijackers. He disclosed that at one point Foreign Minister Walter Scheel insisted that the Bavarian State government was the responsible authority. But this was dismissed outright by Ben-Horin who insisted that the responsibility lay squarely with Bonn.

Eban found a West German government spokesman’s statement that “Germany was not responsible for the Middle East conflict” somewhat disturbing. “There is no justification for any role of smugness or self-righteousness on the part of the West German spokesman,” Eban said. He vowed that Israel would continue its fight to destroy the terrorists and would act against any Arab government that offered the terrorists aid. The 13 passengers and seven crew members of the German airliner were freed only after the hijacked plane landed safely at Tripoli, Libya.

(See separate stories for reactions from Washington, the UN, London and Jewish leaders in the US.)

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