STEVE INSKEEP, host:
One of the passengers on board one of the ships in that flotilla was Edward Peck. He's a retired American diplomat with long experience in the Middle East. Ambassador Peck returned to his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland yesterday.
Ambassador, welcome back to the United States.
Ambassador EDWARD PECK (Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): It's a great feeling to get back. Although, I must say that one of my principle reactions to this whole effort is disappointment in the way it has unfolded, or unraveled.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk for a second about how it unfolded for you. I understand that weren't on the ship where the deaths took place but...
Ambassador PECK: That is correct.
INSKEEP: Where were you and what did you see?
Ambassador PECK: I was on a much smaller ship that had sailed from Athens. Four o'clock in the morning we awakened to have the commandoes already on board. They'd come up very quietly on their little boats - their Zodiacs - with just enough time to get a small passive resistance effort started, try to keep them out of the wheel house and away from the engine room. Some people got roughed up, punched and kicked and, you know, arms twisted and some cuts and bruises and things along that line, nothing critical at that point.
INSKEEP: Did you expect that?
Ambassador PECK: We expected it the next night because, as you may know, we were well off the coast. We were in international waters.
INSKEEP: But you knew that the Israelis were not going to welcoming you coming to Gaza?
Ambassador PECK: Well, we weren't sure and we had talked about what to do and how to be nonviolent, because the last thing you want to do is provoke armed soldiers. But I've seen three newspapers since the plane landed in New Jersey, and several times the Israelis have been quoted as saying that their guys were armed with paint guns. Well, indeed they were as well as pistols and automatic rifles, and stun grenades and pepper spray.
INSKEEP: Would you say that the Israeli commandos behaved professionally?
Ambassador PECK: I would say that, yes. They were trained. They knew what they were doing and how to do it. They spoke to us in a peremptory fashion, but not hostile or nasty. They didn't scream, they didn't curse, they just said, you know, what they wanted us to do and told us to do it. And we did it, because the resistance was over. They had the ship.
INSKEEP: How did you get involved in this mission, in which most of the people involved seemed to be Turkish citizens?
Ambassador PECK: Well, there were people from 30 countries. And this was a European effort. The Europeans decided that they needed to have some American participation, so they turned to an organization called the Free Palestine Movement based out of the San Francisco Bay area. And they contacted me for reasons which are not entirely clear, but I accepted because this was an opportunity to do something over and above talking and listening, which is what I'd been doing for the last 25 years.
INSKEEP: Were you concerned at all, about the people you were involved with, because as I'm sure you've learned from reading the papers since your release, Israel has suggested that the organizers had links to Hamas and links to al-Qaida.
Ambassador PECK: I think I'd be very surprised if they didn't make that charge. Even if it had been a boatload of clergy, you know, that's what they have to do, that defends and explains what they've done, that these people were linked to Hamas and all the rest of it. It's entirely possible that that's the case, but that certainly was not the intent of the group.
INSKEEP: So any links that might exist are irrelevant to you, because it was a humanitarian aid mission - full stop.
Ambassador PECK: It was a humanitarian aid mission and I cannot speak for anybody on that trip except me and the people that I was associated with in going over there. And our hope was that the Israelis come to the conclusion that what they should do, which would avoid the kinds of things that have happened now, was to let the materials come in.
INSKEEP: Was it strange to you, as a former U.S. diplomat to take such a public stand, to get on a boat like this, knowing that it was likely that you'd be arrested in the way that you were?
Ambassador PECK: Well, you know, nobody wants anything bad to happen to Israeli understand and I'm certainly in that category, but I feel that bad things are going to happen if they keep doing what they're doing. And not just to Israel, bad things are going to happen to Palestinians and to Americans, because of what is happening in Palestine and also because of what is not happening in Palestine. All three groups are going to suffer.
INSKEEP: Do you think that this event has created a situation that might change things?
Ambassador PECK: I think that things might have changed if it had been handled differently, but hawkish people take hawkish positions, and the Israeli government is now what the American government was, at least in previous administrations, quite hawkish. And sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn't. But it could be a catalyst. I mean that would be the benefit that would be drawn from this terrible thing.
INSKEEP: Ambassador Edward Peck is a retired U.S. diplomat and he was onboard one of the ships that was stopped by Israel on its way to Gaza over the holiday weekend. Ambassador, thanks very much.
Ambassador PECK: My pleasure, sir. Bye-bye.
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