I Voted for a War Criminal

I, and all the others who believed Amir Peretz, gave the go-ahead to the 155-mm. shells. We killed those kids.

They say that confession is good for the stricken soul. So here's mine: I voted for a war criminal.

I didn't know it at the time. My intentions were sound. I wanted a better life for the Israelis who had it the worst. I wanted a better life for the Palestinians, who had it worse than anyone.

I weighed the options, examined the alternatives. I had met Amir Peretz when he was still mayor of this town that no one had heard of, Sderot. He was socially conscious, savvy, energetic, courageous, responsive to his constituents, true to his ideals. He got the right things done. He wanted peace with his neighbors across the Gaza border, in Beit Hanun. He had good ideas about how to get there. People in town thought he could do the impossible, become Israel's first Moroccan-born prime minister.

On March 28 of this year, I walked into the voting booth, having assessed the choices Peretz had made so far. I saw the new people he had attracted to the Labor Party - Ami Ayalon, Avishai Braverman - a host of other capable, creative people, keen to help heal this country, anxious to make a broken nation better.

I considered with care. Like the crew of the Israel Defense Forces self-propelled howitzer that was ordered to fire at the site of a Qassam launch, an otherwise deserted orange grove in northern Gaza. A safe distance from the houses in adjacent Beit Hanun. Or so they believed. The crewmen checked before they acted. Their intentions were sound. They had no reason to doubt that the information they had received was reliable. They had no reason to fear that they were about to kill 19 people in a matter of seconds, some of them children still asleep in their beds.

I made it possible. I and all the others who took the ballot with the word emet (truth) written on it, and dropped it in the slot. I and all the others who believed Amir Peretz. We gave the go-ahead to the 155-mm. shells. We killed those kids.

Over the next half-year, I would watch my single act of voting turn from hopeful to misguided to stupid to immoral.

The defense minister was the man who could have ruled out the artillery fire before it took its horrible toll. The defense minister was the man who could have said no to the generals who approved it: Yoav Galant, chief of the Gaza front, and his divisional commander, Chico Tamir. And we put the defense minister where he is.

We could console ourselves with the truth that functions as a lie - that we didn't intend for him to be defense minister, that we elected him to be a finance minister or a welfare minister. The artillery crew did not intend for those shells to kill civilians, either.

We can, if we prefer, lay it all off on Peretz, the man who, at a time of critical human need, passed up the chance to be a great and valued cabinet engine for social affairs, in order to be an ineffectual and even dangerous minister of defense. He could have addressed the needs of thousands of the hungry, the jobless, the handicapped, the elderly, the undereducated. He could have saved thousands of Israelis from poverty, from despair. Instead, at this point, the only person Amir Peretz is succeeding in saving is Ismail Haniyeh.

You may ask, are Qassams fired at innocent civilians a war crime? Of course they are. Does that absolve us from guilt? Not in the slightest.

A few months before that March election, at a huge memorial in Tel Aviv marking 10 years since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, I listened to the newly elected leader of the Labor Party, Amir Peretz, speak with passion and evident conviction of his goals: "I have a dream, Yitzhak, that one day an industrial zone will be set up in the no-man's land between Sderot and Beit Hanun. Entertainment venues and playgrounds for our children and Palestinian children will be set up, and they will play together, and build a common future together."

There will be those on the right, and they will be many, who are gloating just now. Gloat away. Gloat all you want.

This is not a partisan issue. It is much wider than that. It involves personalities in the military and the defense establishment who failed us, who failed their own. And it involves their boss, who can neither gain control over them nor replace them.

Over Gaza, as over Lebanon, Israel is being forced to make concessions not because of terrorist fire, but because of our own.

In Gaza as in Lebanon, the generals pushed, and Peretz caved. For years, the army did its job of the saving the Israeli people. Now it's up to the people to save the army, and to save Israel from its misdeeds. Better much too late than never. Ask the Republican Party. It has taken action - to save itself, America, perhaps the world, from Donald Rumsfeld.

It's time now for the Labor Party, and the left as a whole, to save itself, from Amir Peretz.