In early October 2002, the British ambassador to Israel, Sherard Cowper-Coles, had the temerity, in a private conversation with an Israeli Defence Force Major-General, to articulate the British Government's shock over what he had seen in the occupied territories.

Inter alia, Mr Cowper-Coles addressed Israel's contraventions of the Geneva Convention and criticised the Israeli Defence Force for "lack of professionalism." He referred to concerns over continued settlement building, harassment of the civilian population, wanton destruction of civilian property and impediments to international welfare organisations operating in the territories. He also characterised the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as creating the 'largest detention camp in the world'.

Segments of this conversation were leaked to the Israeli press, possibly by the Israeli Foreign Ministry (who had adopted a "serious view" of certain remarks), and caused a furore when Mr Cowper-Coles was reported as saying that Israel had "reduced the West Bank and Gaza Strip into a vast concentration camp."

US-based watchdog The Simon Wiesenthal Centre subsequently wrote to the UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, demanding the recall of the Ambassador: "we urge the prompt recall of Mr. Cowper-Coles for Holocaust revisionism, banalization of the memory of its victims and endorsement of the most extreme voices of Palestinian anti-Semitism," the center's international liaison director, Shimon Samuels told Straw.

1st Sect
Photo: HM Government

Jack Straw's letter of reply is reproduced here. In the same week, Israeli joint-authors Michael Hoffman and Moshe Lieberman had published their book entitled "The Israeli Holocaust Against the Palestinians" . . .