Through time immemorial Cyprus and Israel have been two neighbors which have been linked in history due to our shared geography. Our relations have been engraved in time. Our peoples have interacted with each other and prospered from this beneficial contact through the centuries. Kosher wine from Cyprus was used in the Temple of Solomon. Kafrisin (the name of Cyprus in Hebrew) is the only country in the world which is mentioned in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud. The Arad letters inform us that soldiers from Cyprus served in the Judean army 600 BCE.
Some of the largest Jewish communities outside the Land of Israel lived and flourished in Cyprus until the Roman expulsions. Salamis and Paphos, two of the most important Cypriot urban centers in ancient times were largely populated by Jews. The first Apostles approached these communities to preach a new message, and the first Cypriot Saint Barnabas – Bar-Navi – was a Cypriot Jew whose birth name was Joseph.
In the Ottoman era, after their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492, Sephardic Jews sought refuge in Ottoman lands and made Cyprus their home. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, Jewish agricultural communities were established in Cyprus.
The link continued into contemporary times, with the modern aspirations of nationhood and sovereignty. Cypriots found themselves in the land of Israel during both World Wars, and learned of the aspiration of Jews in Palestine for a national homeland. Thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe after the end of Second World War and the horrors of the Holocaust passed from Cyprus. In fact approximately 53,000 Jews were detained by the British in camps on the island between 1946 and 1948. During that same period more than 2000 children were born here, a testament that glimmers of hope can be found even in dark times. It was the relationship between the Hagana and Cypriot patriots which kept this population fed, healthy and prepared them for eventual aliya (immigration) to Israel. In the Cyprus National Police Museum, you can see a tunneling device, which was used by the Hagana and their Cypriot supporters to dig under the camps and help Jews escape.
And now, once again, our two peoples and countries are in an age of rediscovery and bond building. It is a rediscovery because the knowledge of one another had been there, and had been developing for many years. Cypriots have been coming to Israel for years and for many different reasons: religious, economic, medical, and family reasons, which today amounts to a veritable diaspora .
Most touching, of course, are the cases of human suffering and solidarity. Over the decades hundreds of Cypriot families received medical help in Israel. Many have been cured. But all were touched by the humanity, the genuine love and warmth that they received from people in Israel in their time of need. These families, in their suffering and difficulties, became the best and most genuine ambassadors for Israel in Cyprus.
During the last few years political relations between our two countries flourished into an unprecedented partnership. The second visit, in a two year period, of President Nicos Anastasiades in June, and the subsequent visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu recently, six weeks later, attest to this.
Beyond the importance of the symbolic dimension, the political relations between our countries have concrete manifestations: As our economic and business ties develop further, our political will to nurture and cultivate our bilateral relations grows stronger. Our cooperation extends over a range of fields, from tourism, economic exchanges, agriculture, business and high tech industries. Commercial and trade ties have expanded and cultural relations have blossomed. Today Cyprus boasts a synagogue and in 2013 the University of Cyprus with the cooperation of the Embassy of Israel in Cyprus has launched a Jewish Studies department.
With the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves, the Mediterranean Sea which has determined the connection between our two countries over the centuries, now holds the potential to join us also in the field of energy cooperation.
The signing of the Exclusive Economic Zone Agreement, delineating our respective zones, formalized a common border between our two countries. This is a common border between friends, who share common values but also a shared vision: a vision of peace and prosperous cooperation with their neighbors in an area where stability is a rare commodity. This vision is very much linked to our efforts for concerted action in effectively tackling asymmetric challenges, and in fostering stability and security in our volatile neighborhood. As President Anastasiades has recently said “We are in a true sense partners of reliability”.
The foreign policy of the government is very clear in this respect: Cyprus has a bridging role to play. As a credible Mediterranean European Union partner, a fervent supporter of the power of constructive dialogue, trust building and facilitation, with pragmatic and moderate minded positions and healthy and sound relations with all the countries in the region we aim to contribute to the manifestation of EU relations with the southern neighborhood.
In the context of working for regional peace, President Anastasiades is decisively committed to exerting all efforts with the aim of attaining a solution that reunifies Cyprus and its people, in a bi-zonal bi-communal federation, in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolutions, High Level Agreements, and based on EU values, principles and law.
The latest developments on the Cyprus problem are promising. With regard to the negotiation process full-fledged bi-communal negotiations aiming at a comprehensive, viable and fair settlement of the Cyprus issue have restarted with the Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci. We are cautiously optimistic that conditions could soon prevail that may enable substantive progress.
We are hopeful that the outcome of this current process will result in a Cyprus which will form a regional precedent and a model of a free, democratic and independent state, where all Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians and Latins will live in security and mutual respect.