A former US ambassador who was on the flotilla that was intercepted by Israeli forces at it attempted to bring humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip says "the people on the ship were defending" themselves when they attempted to fight off Israeli soldiers.
Edward Peck told the hosts of CNN's American Morning on Wednesday, "The purpose was humanitarian. We posed no threat to anybody. We were unarmed."
Peck, who was a chief of mission in Baghdad during the Carter administration and then served as deputy director of the White House task force on terrorism during the Reagan administration, was seized by the Israelis during the raid, in which at least nine people were killed and dozens injured. As one of the first participants to have been released, he has been speaking out against Israeli claims that their own soldiers were the ones who came under attack.
Israeli Minister of Information Yuli Edelstein, for example, told CNN's John Roberts on Tuesday, "They are definitely not peace activists. They were a gang carrying axes, knives, baseball bats, and so on -- some of them, apparently, guns. ... So the soldiers were brutally attacked. ... They had to react."
"Here they are on a ship in international waters," Peck countered. "making a peaceful effort to bring humanitarian aid. ... Here come a bunch of guys, heavily armed, to take over the ship forcibly. ... Now who is attacking and who is defending? They were defending their ship against armed people."
"They had deck chairs," Peck said when shown video of people using metal rods to strike the soldiers. "A deck chair is not a weapon."
The Israeli version of the incident has also involved painting the participants in the flotilla as terrorists. A story on the website of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), for example, is headlined "Radical Hamas Supporters Beat, Stab Israeli Soldiers." And the story goes on to say that "radicals--some with ties to terrorist organizations--attacked the Israeli soldiers with metal rods and knives. The Israeli soldiers were then forced to use live ammunition to defend themselves."
In an earlier interview with Fox News, Peck had commented on claims of that type, saying, "I was interested in the Israeli government's statements that these ships were filled with Hamas supporters and al Qaeda terrorists and all of that thing. What would you expect them to say, that we were all, you know, tree-hugging, you know, Kumbaya singers? They had to say that."
Peck himself was not on the large ship carrying supplies, which was where where the major fighting took place. "Ours was a very small boat," he explained. "The Israelis stepped from their deck right onto ours and whoop, it was over, essentially. There was a scuffle up around the wheelhouse, where people tried to offer passive resistance. The ship's captain was pretty badly hurt -- he had to have a neck brace. ... But on the other ship, where there were 600 people ... the people said, 'Hey, you can't do this.' So you take whatever is to hand."
"Many of us, people like myself, were perhaps unrealistically hopeful," Peck concluded, "that the Israeli government would have seen that this was an opportunity to have it go just the other way and to have them be seen welcoming the cargo ships. ... Instead, Israel decided to go the way it went."
Noting that Israel has threatened to meet further attempts to run the blockade with an even more aggressive use of force, Peck commented, "I hope they don't do it. It will not serve Israel's interests -- and certainly not America's."
This video is from CNN's American Morning, broadcast June 2, 2010.