In 1979, Edward Peck was the U.S. Department of State's chief of mission in Baghdad when Americans were taken hostage in Iran. More than three decades later, the Chevy Chase Village resident finds himself in the center of another Middle East controversy. The former ambassador, who has lived in the Village since 1980, was on one of the ships in a reported aid flotilla bound for Gaza when it was boarded by troops from the Israel Defense Forces early Monday in international waters. He said there was relatively little violence on his ship, however several people who were part of the flotilla were killed, including an American student, according to news reports.
"There must be 140 messages from people who wanted to talk to me," said Peck, 81, in an interview at his home Thursday morning.
His wife, Ann was swamped helping to manage his interviews with media outlets, and he said he was still calling embassies and organizations to get his personal possessions back from Israel. He was taken off his boat, the Sfendoni, and was detained by the Israeli government for a bit more than a day before being deported on a flight to Newark, N.J. He arrived home Tuesday with just the clothes he was wearing and his hat.
A Foreign Service Officer for the State Department for 32 years who also runs a consulting firm, Foreign Services International, Peck boarded the Sfendoni in Greece at the invitation of an American group supporting Palestinians. After decades of diplomatic work and trips bringing visitors to the Middle East, Peck said he wanted to join the flotilla bringing aid to Gaza because he wanted to bring items, such as medicine and water purifiers, to the area.
"I was also interested in participating in a peaceful effort to conduct a humanitarian effort, while perhaps at the same time, easing or breaking the blockade," said Peck, referring to Israel's blockade of Gaza, located between Egypt and Israel.
Peck was willing to sacrifice comfort to participate in the mission. During the five to six days he was on the ship, he cleaned himself with wet wipes, and had only the deck or a chair to sleep on. There was some anticipation among those on board that they could encounter the Israeli military, but the ship did not have procedures in place to deal with such an encounter, such using a bullhorn or flares, Peck said.