I would like to recycle something I wrote last August, before the inauguration of The Jewish Pluralist. Its about my uncle, Moishe Eisenstadt, and his murderer, released in a previous prisoner releases. I don’t have much to add to what I wrote then, except that the question of prisoner releases, gets to, like few other issues, the vast and perhaps unbridgeable gulf between Israeli and Palestinian perceptions of their respective situations and that of the “other.” I remain where I was last year—prisoner releases are unpleasant and uncomfortable, but if they lead to the possibility of serious peace negotiations, it would not have been in vain. However, it increasingly looks as if this is just what the Kerry negotiations will be, more futility, another bridge to nowhere, just more sound and fury, signifying nothing. BTW, on Jonathan Pollard: Why the US has to make concessions to Israel is beyond me, and though I have no objection to Pollard’s release in principle, doing before a final agreement, and just as another carrot to Israel to keep the negotiations going strikes me as lunacy. In any event, lets remember the real martyrs (and not someone justly sentenced for spying on his country), and their ranks certainly include my departed uncle, Moishe Eisenstadt.
I read the news from Israel pretty carefully, but I guess I didn’t pay particularly close attention to the news about Israel’s prisoner recent release. To the extent I thought about it, I viewed it, as I viewed most things, through my left-wing lenses, viewing it as a political necessity, a way of Israel to show some good will to other side, a way of, perhaps, beginning to thaw the long frozen efforts at serious negotiations towards a two-state solution. Perhaps, as Jeffrey Goldberg has suggested, it shows that Israel would rather release murderers than freeze settlements, but I suppose, you have to start somewhere. I read some of the horrible accounts of the murders committed by those released, and stories about those in Israel who did not want the murderers of the their loved ones to be freed, but I sympathized with the release nonetheless. There are far too many Palestinians in Israeli jails, I thought. If we remain on the level of individual atrocities, we will just endlessly recapitulate our rage; we need to learn to feel the pain of both sides. Certainly there are many Israelis who committed acts just as heinous. The calculus of the release is ultimately not based on any abstract standard of justice but is baldly utilitarian; whatever brings about the greatest good for the greatest number, which, in this case, is undoubtedly a two-state solution that recognizes the legitimate national aspirations of the two peoples, is to be welcomed. Making peace, for both sides, will be tough choice after tough choice, including releasing prisoners who really don’t deserve to be freed.
I still agree with that, I guess, but I was shocked to read that one of those released killed my uncle, Moishe Eisenstadt, in K’far Saba in 1994. It was one of the most brutal and senseless of all of the murders. He was 80 years old; he was sitting on a park bench, reading a book, when some monster crept up behind him, and split his head with an axe. I of course knew about his murder, but I hadn’t thought about it recently. I have been thinking a lot about it today. I have read the prisoner’s name, but I would just as well not give it any more publicity. My uncle’s murderer was about 35 years old when he committed his crime. He was from Gaza, a member of Fatah. As they say in Torah, may his name be forgotten. Nineteen years in prison is not enough for what he did.
I never knew my uncle Moishe very well (he was, what, an second uncle, or whatever you call it), but I saw him at family gatherings. He attended my Bar Mitzvah. (The obituaries call him Morris, which he used on official business, or Moshe, which he used in Israel, but in New York City he was always the Yiddish Moish or Moishe.) He owned a candy store, I believe, in Brooklyn. He was a natty dresser, and told funny stories, with Yiddish punch lines I never understood. When I was young, and didn’t quite yet know what things were sometimes best left unsaid, I mentioned to him at some family function that I thought he had more than a little resemblance to Adam Clayton Powell he was not impressed. “That schwartze?,” I believe was his response. (He had the same pencil mustache, and roughly the same swarthy complexion.) He was no saint, but a typical New York City Jew who came of age during the depression; my father’s relatives were always dirt poor, hounded by ill circumstance, and always scuffling to get by or break even. We had a few gonifs, a few schmeils and schmazels, a few Communists, and a Zionist or two. He and his wife Fay made aliyah to be near their daughter, Rita. He was a nice man, a good man, who lived a decent life. He did not deserve to die like a dog.