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Cypriots torn between Palestine and Israel

Cyprus struggles with dual identity in Middle East conflict

George Kakouris

George Kakouris

The Greek Cypriot approach to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has always been conflicted, mainly because we don't know with whom to identify. This has nothing to do with moral dilemmas in a dialectical debate about right and wrong. We are not concerned with whether the current distorted perception of reality in Israel, exploited by the officially corruption-accused and cynically nationalist Netanyahu, stems from the trauma of the Holocaust, or whether it is now justified.

We don't care if Israel truly has a right to exist, or if it is a more or less democratic state (for its Jewish inhabitants). We do not care whether its practices constitute apartheid and whether genocide is currently occurring in Gaza. We are not particularly interested, in terms of political practice, in the occupation experienced by Palestinians in the West Bank, or in the dual dictatorship in Gaza – the poverty imposed by Israeli isolation and the fanaticism imposed by Hamas.

Public opinion in Cyprus was somewhat energised by seeing what innocent Israelis suffered from Hamas in the October 7 attack and what innocent Palestinians suffer from Israel's excessive, genocidal response since then.

The average Israeli's lack of understanding of what it means to live today with a good quality of life next to an open prison, and the dead end faced by the average Gaza resident under Hamas, add a tragic dimension that we might have been able to discuss before the issue was plunged into a political dialogue of monologues. For decades after 1974, the Greek Cypriot approach, from left to right, was to identify with the Palestinians as a people under occupation. We identified with Palestine in the context of the Cyprus Treaty of "semi-occupation," where only the Turkish Cypriots were under real occupation, while the effects of displacement were faced by Greek Cypriot refugees alone, working hard for the "Cyprus miracle," the dark side of which was already captured in 1976 by Thekla Kittou and Lambros Papadimitrakis in the documentary "Cyprus, the Other Reality."

For years, free Cyprus has been developing, acquiring wealth and prosperity, throwing crumbs to the displaced and creating a powerful class, which has consistently failed to do what was necessary to solve the Cyprus problem or to effectively use the tools of international recognition and later the EU to force Turkey to face its responsibilities. For every failure, the ruling class continues to feed the world a mix of longstanding grievances, national narrative, and complaints about Wicked Turkey, and we tolerate it.

Then came the gas, and suddenly we saw the Cypriot state and their Greek Cypriot representatives forget about kefiya and give in to Noble village dreams about our regional role. The image of the victim that we have of ourselves began to coexist in the same heads, theirs and ours, with the image of the great player. Since then, we have been in a conflicted situation where we are both "timeless friends" of the Palestinians (due to the occupation that some of us experience normally and most of us hypocritically) and partners of Israel as the Westernised "only democracy in the region" (despite its timeless deficits, or the reasons why the other countries in the region are not democracies).

We adopt both these narratives not for reasons of principle, as we maintain in both cases, but because of the benefit we derive from our rhetorical self-identification as a victim, which the first narrative offers, and the business opportunities that the second narrative offers. That is, while we demand respect for principles and values, we remain cynically self-interested. Like when we're one of the few countries in the EU represented at Putin's inauguration despite the fact that, unlike most of the others that attended, we were the victim of invasion. Our deep moral bankruptcy can be seen by looking at our founding myths. When Makarios, whom everyone still invokes in election campaigns, said, according to Yiannos Kranidiotis ("The Cyprus Problem 1960 - 1974"), that the Turkish Cypriots "are in concentration camps, which they created" while "for us life goes on," and asked, "what new Turkish generation will be created in Cyprus, when everything is in the hands of the Greeks?"

This deeply cynical and short-sighted approach collapsed on 20 July 1974. The Israeli illusion that apartheid can last forever without tragic consequences collapsed on 7 October 2023.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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