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Behind the Headlines the Role of Cyprus in Jewish History

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At different times the island of Cyprus (probably the “Alishiya” or “Elishah” mentioned a number of times in the Bible), played an important role in Jewish history, according to a special report prepared for the JTA by Dr. Frederick Lachman, executive editor of the Encyclopaedia Judaica.

After World War II the British government forcibly transferred many thousands of the so-called “illegal” immigrants, who tried to reach Palestine, to detention camps in Cyprus. Their total number from 1946 to 1948 was 51,500. With the establishment of the State of Israel they were quickly absorbed in the mainstream of the mass immigration which began to arrive in the country. In 1951 the Jewish population of Cyprus numbered 165 persons, and by 1970 there were only 25 Jews left on the Island.

Jewish settlement on the island began during the third century B.C.E. under Ptolemaic rule. In 142 B.C.E. the Romans sent letters to Cyprus requesting that the rights of the Jews be safeguarded. The historian Josephus refers to flourishing Jewish settlements, and Hasmonean coins have been discovered on the island. King Herod received from Augustus a portion of the revenue from Cyprus’ copper mines, and his granddaughter, Alexandra, married an aristocratic Jew, Timius of Cyprus.

Under Trajan probably in 116/7 C.E., the Jews of Cyprus together with those of Cyrene, Mesopotamia and Egypt revolted for causes which are not clear, and it is reported that the Jews of Cyprus killed 240,000 people and destroyed the city of Salamis. After the revolt was suppressed, Jews were strictly forbidden to set foot on the island, but during the third century the Jews had resettled in Cyprus, according to the authoritative Encyclopaedia Judaica.

COMPLEX ATTITUDE TOWARD ISRAEL

In the early seventh century there was a large Jewish community in Famagusta. and other large communities developed later in Nicosia, Paphos, and Limasol. Jews, however, were discriminated against by law, and in the 14th century they had to wear the distinguishing yellow badge. An attempt in 1568 to foment a rebellion on the island a Venetian possession, in favor of the Turks was attributed to the statesman Joseph Nasi. Thanks to the efforts of Solomon Ashkenazi, a peace treaty was signed in 1573 between Venice and Turkey, the latter having conquered the Island in 1571.

In 1878 Benjamin Disraeli succeeded in placing Cyprus under British administration. Between 1883 and 1897 there were attempts to settle Jews from Rumania on the island. In the early 1900’s, Herzl discussed with Chamberlain a plan to settle Jews in Cyprus, but without success. Between 1933 and 1939 Cyprus was a sanctuary for 500 Jewish refugees from Germany.

In 1960 diplomatic relations were established on an ambassadorial level, but the government of Cyprus assumed a complex and sometimes contradictory attitude in its relations with Israel at the United Nations its representatives mostly sided with the Arab states, and simultaneously Cyprus fostered mass tourism from Israel and developed satisfactory trade relations and technical cooperation.

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