Address by the President of the Republic, Mr Nicos Anastasiades, at the unveiling of an honorary plaque for Cypriots who helped Jewish refugees, July 7, 2014
It is with profound emotion and great respect that we are here today for the unveiling of a commemorative plaque which will serve as a reminder, for present and future generations, of the warm relations developed during difficult and tragic times between the Cypriot and Jewish people. During and immediately after the Second World War, Cyprus became a passing point for about 53.000 survivors of the Holocaust who were trying to reach Palestine, which was under British administration, before the establishment of the State of Israel.
Jews deported to Cyprus were housed in military camps in the Karaolos area near the town of Famagusta, in military camps in Dekeleia and here, in Xylotympou. For the Jewish people, the deportation period to our then-colonized island, was the last stage in their long journey to the land of Israel. It was a period of endless, depressing living conditions, but even under these circumstances, at the military camps of Jewish refugees there was life, a lot of compassion and love.
Cypriots who worked in the military camps, as well as the villages around, were very warm towards the deported and really identified with their suffering. They offered the Jewish refugees services and necessary goods, expressing their solidarity in practice.
Sixty five years after the gates of Jewish military detention camps in Cyprus closed down and the refugees immigrated to Israel, almost all tangible evidence of their existence here has disappeared, but not from the hearts of people.
A shining example is Zehavit Blumenfeld who was born in the old British Military Hospital in Aglantzia, in 1948, and has turned into the Good Samaritan of Cypriots visiting Israel for medical or other reasons.
Zehavit has no memories of when she left Cyprus at nine months old. But when she was young, she always listened to her parents, as she says, speaking very highly of Cypriots. This is kept deep into her soul and will forever live in the hearts of the people of Cyprus and Israel.
This bond of compassion and love strengthens the link of friendship and good neighbourliness between our two countries that is rooted in the depth of History and goes back to ancient times. When the first Jews settled in Cyprus during the Hellenistic period, making their presence here important until the Roman era. During the Ottoman period, Cyprus received once again waves of Sephardic Jews who flocked the countries of the Ottoman Empire after their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492.
A more recent encounter of the two peoples took place at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, when efforts took place to compose Jewish agricultural communities on our island.
Today, the relations of our two countries have entered into their brightest stage, not under circumstances of need and financial or political coercion, like in the past, but of free will and choice.
We are launching a new era in our relations, especially after the discovery of hydrocarbons in the Exclusive Economic Zones of the two countries. I would like to remind, though, that even before the discovery of reserves, during the presidency our late President Glafkos Clerides in 1994, our diplomatic relations were reinforced through the opening of a Cypriot embassy in Israel. The first high level visits took place by President Weizman in 1998 in Cyprus and by President Clerides in 2000, in Israel.
They peaked with the signature of an agreement for the delimitation of Cyprus and Israel’s Exclusive Economic Zone and visits followed by President Christofias and President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, in Cyprus in 2012 and my visit to Israel in 2013.
Moreover, a new period of further deepening of our relations was marked by my visit to Israel in May 2013 and the signature of important agreements for a strategic relation in co-exploiting the findings of hydrocarbons, but also on a wide spectrum of issues concerning the best interests of both countries.
The cooperation of our countries has expanded in a series of fields like search and rescue, tourism, agriculture, science and the environment.
I would like to note the common perception that characterizes our intentions, like that expressed by President Shimon Peres during my visit to Israel, as President of the Republic of Cyprus. “Cyprus and Israel are united in many ways.
We worked and will continue to work with Cyprus, which Israel considers a close friend both politically and geographically.” I would say the same from our side as well.
As I have stated a few days ago, during the inauguration of another joint project, at Vasiliko, my government is committed to further expanding and deepening the already excellent relations between Cyprus and Israel, so that a new era of prosperity between our countries will be inaugurated.
During the extensive meetings with officials from the Israeli government, including the Prime Minister, whom we expect to host in our country soon, what was established was that Cyprus and Israel share a common vision: to substantially and strategically upgrade our relations in all possible fields for our mutual benefit. Personally, I will spare no effort and initiative and will offer every necessary help to achieve this goal.
Closing, I would like to point out that hidden behind this soulless plaque that we unveil today to remind an historic encounter of our two peoples, are the common pain, common fate and the common vision of our countries, in this narrow and explosive corner of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Our warm relationship will always lead our future steps for the common good of our people and the wider region.
With these observations and the wish that the principles and values of international law will prevail as regards the issues of existence that our countries face, I wish that we celebrate soon the permanent peace in our turbulent region for the good of the people of all the nations of the Eastern Mediterranean.