Uncle Moishe and the Prisoner Release

I have been trying for a while to write something about my uncle, Moishe Eisenstadt.  I never knew him well.  He was sort of a second cousin,  the son of one of my grandfather’s brothers.   He was the kind of relative you only saw at big family gatherings, where there were plenty of relatives you really didn’t know.  He attended my Bar Mitzvah.   If he had been living in the United States, I’m sure my mom would have insisted that he be invited to my wedding.  He was somewhat reserved, at least when I saw him.   He was a natty dresser, and the only conversation I remember having with him, sometime in the late 1960s, was telling him I thought, with his pencil mustache and rather swarthy complexion, that he looked a little like Adam Clayton Powell. He was not flattered by the comparison.  I don’t want to defame him, but I believe (though I am not sure) his response was to furrow his brow and reply, “that schwartze?” (He was making a joke, but I wish I had a nicer anecdote.  Anyway, it captures for me the rough way Jews of his generation often spoke.)      
He was born in 1914, I’m not sure whether in Belarus or in New York.  He was called Morris on official occasions, and in Israel he was Moshe, but to his friends and family he was always the Yiddish Moishe. (One syllable, extended dipthong.)  He came of  age during the Depression.   Most of  my father’s side of the family had a difficult adjustment to the United States, with more than the occasional schmazel and lost soul among them,  along with a smattering of Communists and a Zionist or two.  I don’t know that much about his life,  but he did better than most of my relatives.  I think he owned a small shop, maybe a candy store, in Brooklyn.  Sometime in the late 1970s, he and his wife, Fay, made aliyah to live near their daughter.   He was a decent man, a good man.

We lost touch.  Then in 1994 we learned the startling news that he had been murdered.  He lived in K’far Saba, near the Green Line.  One afternoon, while reading a book, someone came up behind him and split his head apart with an axe.  The murderer was caught.  He was from Gaza, a member of Fatah, in his mid-30s.  He was one of the prisoners released recently in the first round of prisoner releases from Israel, intended as a gesture to help thaw the peace process. Ever since I learned this, I have been thinking a lot about my uncle.   I know the name of his murderer. Its easy enough to look up, but I will not give it any further attention.  May his name be erased from our memory, the Torah says.  Nineteen years is not enough time for what he did.   I am an unbending opponent of the death penalty, but if there ever was a prime candidate for the gallows, or whatever it is they do in Texas these days, it’s the monster who killed my uncle.
     
I’ve hesitated writing about it, because I really don’t know what to say. The comments about  the prisoner release fall into the usual divisions.    Conservative defenders of  Israel say—“look at these Palestinian animals, they make axe murderers into heroes.  How do people expect Israelis to live with them?”  I certainly agree that while Israel has committed a lot of injustices against the Palestinians, keeping this animal in jail for nineteen years was not one of them.  And if  I was Abbas, trying to decide which prisoners to ask to be released,  this guy would not have made the A-list.   
And then those on the hard left have said, “please spare us your tears and double standards. Do you know how many Palestinians rot their lives away in Israeli jails for what amounts to misdemeanors, if that?  And how many Israelis ever served nineteen years in prison for killing a Palestinian?”  And that’s largely true, too, I suppose.

 And then there’s the people of good will, who say, “look, both sides will need to learn to feel the pain of the other if there is ever is to be peace, and break the cycle of violence.  We need to rise above our personal hurts, and not feed and cultivate them.  Let them go, and learn how to listen to the other.”  That’s certainly true as well,  though the murderer of my uncle can keep his goddamn  “narrative” to himself. I certainly won’t be listening.

I wish I had a grand point to make.  Revenge, I know, is not justice.  You can’t have both. And the recent history of  the Jews, and of the Palestinians, is filled with passionate people who want both and usually end up with neither.   All I can say is that if the release of the murderer of  my uncle helps bring about the desperately needed rapprochement between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, it was worth it, as part of  the bleak utilitarian calculus  that holds that private suffering must make way before the greatest good for the greatest number. If it does not, and if  Bibi and Abbas negotiated the release of  this fiend for nothing, then both sides have the blood of Moishe Eisenstadt on their hands.  As some commentators have said, I wished Israel had agreed to a comprehensive settlement freeze rather than this questionable prisoner release.  For some reason,  it is easier for Israel to release a vicious murderer than not build another thousand new housing units in East Jerusalem. But at the same time,  never having been subject to Israeli military authority,  I suppose it’s difficult for non-Palestinians to understand that because of the nature of the conflict, all Palestinians in Israeli jails are imbued, legitimately or illegitimately, with the aura of political prisoners.
 But I have come to neither condemn the prisoner release nor to praise it. I just wanted people reading this to learn something about my uncle, Moishe Eisenstadt.  He is now just a grim statistic, another casualty of the endless conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and his death is viewed, by all sides, through the lens of their biases and preoccupations.  But I remember him.   And he did not deserve to be slaughtered and die like a dog.

Peter Eisenstadt
This post was written by
Peter Eisenstadt is an independent historian; he was a member of Hashomer Hatzair during his youth in NYC. His books include "Rochdale Village: Robert Moses, 6,000 Families, and New York City's Great Experiment in Integrated Housing," "Affirming the Covenant: A History of Temple B'Rith Kodesh Rochester, New York, 1848-1998," and (most recently) "Black Conservatism: Essays in Intellectual and Political History." He has co-authored "Visions of a Better World: Howard Thurman's Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African American Nonviolence," and "Encyclopedia of New York State."

2 Comments on "Uncle Moishe and the Prisoner Release"

  • tedbh says

    Unfortunately, there are not enough Jews and Arabs in Israel/Palestine who are as civilized as you. This vividly shows why there is no realistic hope for a peaceful and just solution. Between the Jewish crazies and the Arab crazies the likely result is Armageddon.

  • David C Eisenstadt says

    I’m four years late responding to Peter’s post. Apparently, we are distance relatives. I came across this post in the research I’m doing on the best places to live if you want to kill a Jew. To no surprise, Palestine territories are #1 on the list. Uncle Moishe was the brother of my father Abraham. I saw first hand the devastating impact his murder had on my father.

    Based on the name of this site “Partners for Progressive Israel”, I shouldn’t be surprised at the moral equivalence tone of this post. Imagine, if the Palestinians had the military superiority that Israel currently has, I doubt their would be 1 Jew left alive in Israel. I was in Israel in 1996 working with the IDF. The optimism of the prospect of peace with the Palestinians was widespread among the IDF officers I worked with. They all knew about my Uncle Moishe, almost everyone had a relative or acquaintance killed in a terrorist attack. This optimism was wiped away with a series of brutal bus bombings meant to kill or maim as many Jews as possible.

    The comment of Palestinians rotting away in Israeli prisons is an outright fabrication. I challenge anyone to prove this fact with names/offenses and prison time.

    Most Palestinians define occupied territory as any place on earth the Jew has the audacity to breath.

    Here is why I selected Palestinian territory as the #1 country to live in if you just can’t wait to kill a Jew:

    o You will be treated like a hero and may have a school named after you.
    o In 2017 the Palestinians gave $158M to terrorists imprisoned for heroically killing any Jew (women and infants included)
    o In 2017 the Palestinians gave $197M to the family of martyrs who died while killing Jews . One recent example is Omar al- Abed who broke into the home of the Salomon family killing three members of the family before being shot to death. His family will earn $3,120 a month for life. Conversely, a degreed engineer working in these territories earns approximately $1,300 a month.
    o The Palestinians can thank Europe and the United States for proving billions of dollars of aid of which 100s of millions are funneled to reward the killing of Jews—any Jew. Ironically, a portion of my tax dollars went to the heroic Palestinian, Ibrahim Salen Ali al-Rai who killed my 79 year old Uncle, who was reading a paper in the park, by smashing a ax in the back of his head. Kill a Jew and have the Jewish tax payers in the United States and European fund a portion of your reward. Hitler would approve.
    o If you go to an Israeli prison you can plan on being released with 1,000 others for the body of one dead Israeli solder.

    Peter, despite our disagreements. I still view you family and wish you nothing but the best.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>