December 9, 2005

Israeli widows preview Spielberg’s ‘Munich’

By Dan Williams

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Steven Spielberg faces fierce debate
over his film about Israel's retaliation for the Palestinian
attack on its team at the Munich Olympics, but the director has
at least one fan: the widow of a slain athlete.

Ilana Romano, whose weightlifter husband Yosef was the
first Israeli sportsman gunned down during the 1972 guerrilla
raid, said she attended an exclusive courtesy screening of
"Munich" in Tel Aviv this week along with fellow widow Ankie

An advance copy of the thriller, which opens in the United
States on December 23 and in Israel next month, was flown out
by its producer Kathleen Kennedy and screenwriter Tony Kushner.

"They were very nice, and wanted to get across the point to
us that the film was made with utmost sensitivity," Romano told
Reuters on Friday.

"For me, it was important that the film does no dishonor to
the memory of the murdered athletes, nor to the image of the
State of Israel. Both my criteria were satisfied," she said.

Though no stranger to tackling highly charged historical
events in his films, Spielberg has kept a low profile over
Munich. Confidants say the director, recognizing the potential
for his film to spark controversy, wants it to speak for

Munich tells of the Israeli agents assigned to hunt down
and kill the Palestinians suspected of planning the Olympics
assault, in which 11 athletes died. With Israel and the
Palestinians still locked in conflict 30 years on, it remains a
loaded episode.

Spielberg has also hinted that his portrayal of Israel's
reprisals tactics would not be entirely flattering and would
raise questions about the U.S. "war on terror" since the
September 11, 2001 attacks.


Veterans of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency came out of
the cold to question Spielberg's sourcing after it emerged that
Munich was based in part on "Vengeance," a 1984 book drawn from
the purported confessions of a former assassin who said he
broke rank in protest at the retaliations policy.

"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," said David
Kimche, a former Mossad deputy director.

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 slayings.

The reprisal campaign included the 1973 killing in Norway
of a Moroccan waiter mistaken for Black September's leader. Six
members of the Israeli hit team were prosecuted for murder, and
Israel eventually paid compensation to the victim's family.

Black September mastermind Mohammad Daoud has also
questioned the basis for Spielberg's portrayal.

While Romano said Munich contained "historical surprises"
-- on which she declined to elaborate, citing reluctance to
spoil the film for viewers -- the widow credited Spielberg with
fairly exploring Israel's reasons for mounting the reprisal

"At the time, I had no dilemma (about the policy)," she
said. "There was simply no other way. The film strengthened
this view, for me."

Spitzer, whose fencer husband Andrei was killed in a
botched German attempt to rescue Israeli athletes taken hostage
by Palestinian gunmen, could not be reached for comment.