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November 08, 2002

"Detention camp," Mr. Ambassador?

A scathing rejoinder to the British ambassador's outrageous accusation about Israeli detention camps (concentration camps) in occupied territories
To the Honorable British Ambassador to Israel, Sherard Cowper-Coles:

Last week you said that the West Bank and Gaza were in danger of becoming "the largest detention camp in the world." The characterization was made in your private meeting with Major-General Amos Gilad, Israeli coordinator of activities in the territories. In remarks leaked to the Israeli press, you were quoted as telling the Israeli official: "You have reduced the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to two vast detention camps, you are imposing collective house arrest on hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and you are hunting down innocent people in the streets."

I understand that now you deny making the last statement, and I accept you at your word, as I do your contention that the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot mistranslated "concentration camps" when you said "detention camps." (I understand that the Wiesenthal Center is demanding your recall pending clarification of that semantic difference, although I am not impressed by the distinction.)

Yet asked the next day whether your remarks were quoted correctly, you told Ha'aretz that they were "broadly true" and that you were "proud" to have made them.

You accused the IDF of committing war crimes, being rude at checkpoints, and uprooting trees unnecessarily. You expressed anger at the source of the leak, although some pundits speculated that the indirect revelation of your "tough" stand would stand you in good stead in London, which has been seeking to pressure Israel and look "even-handed" to the Arab world.