Albanians and the Jewish people – bonds of friendship that transcend time
Though the times were critical, the show of friendship toward Albanians was heartwarming.
By AKRI ÇIPA
Elie Wiesel famously wrote, “Friendship is never anything but sharing.” Friends share cheerful moments together but even more importantly, they share the painful ones. In the tragic moments of these last three weeks for Albania, the country’s bonds of friendship with Israel and the Jewish people were once again on display.
There was no time for celebration in Albania this November. While the Balkan country was preparing for November 28 (Independence Day) and November 29 (Liberation Day), a devastating earthquake left no room for joyous moments. Instead of waving proudly in the sky, the Albanian flag flew at half-mast.
On November 26, Albania was hit by a 6.4-magnitude quake – the strongest in 40 years. With a death toll of 51, the catastrophe was the most tragic event in the country’s recent memory. With the quake’s epicenter very close to the most densely-populated area of the country, the latest figures from the Albanian government estimate that more than 13,000 people were directly affected by the earthquake
Though the times were critical, the show of friendship toward Albanians was heartwarming. Not only did Albania receive tremendous brotherly support from Kosovo, other neighboring countries and friends across Europe and the world also quickly came to Albania’s aid. Italy, Greece, France, Romania, Turkey, Germany and many others sent aid teams to Albania and pledged to help financially. Among the many friends Albania could count on in these difficult time was Israel, which expressed its solidarity by immediately sending an aid team to provide logistical support and help with reconstruction.
According to some estimates, more than 1,500 Albanian families are now able to return to their homes after Israeli operations in securing not only apartments, but also hospitals and schools hit by the earthquake.
A video of Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama thanking the Israeli team for its help in the post-earthquake emergency was quickly cross-posted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reaffirmed Israel’s support for Albania during its difficult times.
RAMA MENTIONED in his video the fact that Albania was “proudly the only country in Europe with more Jews after World War II than before it.” In fact, the relationship between Albanians and the Jewish people was forged during the Europe’s and the world’s darkest hours. Not only did Albanians in Albania and Kosovo refuse to surrender members of the local Jewish communities to the Nazis, they also provided food and shelter to many Jewish refugees from Central and Southern Europe.
A beautiful tribute presented by the Israeli Defense Forces highlighted some of the countless stories of Albanians saving Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. The IDF emphasized that the aid delegation to Albania “has a much greater meaning to the people of Israel that what one would initially think.”
Albania and Israel have excellent bilateral relations, and the support during this recent tragedy highlighted once again those bonds of true friendship.
The latest show of solidarity after the earthquake is not an isolated case. In fact, history is rich with examples of the friendship between Albanians and the Jewish people. Albanians remember when Israel welcomed many refugees fleeing from Kosovo in 1999, during the genocidal campaign that Serbia launched in Kosovo against the ethnic Albanian majority there. The US-led NATO campaign that put an end to the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo was greatly supported and cheered by Jewish communities across the world, especially the American Jewish community.
The mutual sense of respect and friendship that has been reinforced between Israel and Albania during difficult times, including the current post-earthquake situation, has reverberated with Albanians throughout the Balkans and beyond. A deep sense of appreciation and gratitude was expressed not only by leaders in Albania, but also by many leaders in the Albanian diaspora, as exemplified by the words of Mark Gjonaj, a New York City councilman and a leader in the Albanian-American community. He highlighted how the world needs today more stories like this.
The friendship between Albanians and the Jewish people once again transcended nearly insurmountable challenges and time. As Albania prepares to undertake its long and difficult path toward reconstruction, it is good to know that we have true friends upon whom we can count.
The writer is a foreign policy expert and consultant from Tirana, Albania. He can be found on Twitter @AkriCipa.