17th May. Feels pretty similar to any recent day here in the UK, except now we’re allowed to holiday in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, and The Falkland Islands, without having to quarantine on our return.
Yes folks, the UK’s green list of countries are ready and waiting for us.
I am being a little unfair — Portugal, Gibraltar and Iceland are on there too, and you can actually get across their borders as opposed to, say, Brunei Darussalam, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand who made the list but made it clear we’re not invited. (They’re only open to residents.)
But, as I say: Portugal, Gibraltar, Iceland. Which reminds me, if you’re planning to head to Portugal’s second city Porto in the near future, I recommend reading this guide. It’s arguably more gratifying than the slew of coverage this morning of journalists travelling over to the Algarve to show everyone ‘what it’s really like’ en route. Taking one for the team there weren’t you, Jonathan?
Now perhaps you’ll permit me to switch from green to red? I’m referring to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
As Wanderlust put it ten days ago: ‘If Israel didn’t make it onto the green list then nowhere would! Following the huge success of its vaccine rollout, we have had our fingers crossed for this one for a while, and can’t wait to get back to explore the culturally rich country. But note that it is currently only taking group tours.’
Something tells me those group tours will be on hold for a bit…
Wanderlust wrote the above mention in the midst of tensions ratcheting up between Palestinians and Israeli police, who were filmed storming al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem (the third holiest site in Islam) during the celebration of Eid, following weeks of restrictions on worshippers during Ramadan.
Much tension has also surrounded the awaited delivery of a supreme court verdict regarding evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in favour of Jewish settlers with pre-1948 claims to the properties. That court decision is on hold for now but in the past week, Hamas rockets into Israel and the devastating Israeli military response means hostile exchanges have exploded into the biggest clashes seen in the region since 2014.
You’ve probably seen the headlines of recent days: ‘Associated Press chief calls for independent enquiry into Israel bombing of its Gaza office’, ‘Calls for ceasefire after deadliest day’, ‘Netanyahu vows to keep attacks at “full force”‘, ‘White House concerns rising over civilian deaths in Israeli-Palestinian conflict’.
Less prominent are pieces like this one from the Art Newspaper featuring a prominent Israeli rabbi and a former Hamas official calling for unity and peace.
Rabbi Melchior, who works with other religious leaders to promote non-violence and conflict resolution, emphasised just how important a symbol the al-Aqsa mosque is to the 3 billion Muslims around the world who witnessed its storming by Israeli police: “When Israeli police trample into al-Aqsa with boots [and rubber bullets] and stop one of the holiest prayers [of Eid], it is one of the gravest transgressions of Islam…this you don’t do.”
Ordinary citizens are the ones suffering most, whatever Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says about only targeting Hamas and other terrorist groups. The loss of even just one individual life is a tragedy, no matter the side, and so far we are looking at a death toll of at least 188 Palestinians (including 88 women and children, the Guardian reported this morning) and 10 Israelis killed by Hamas rockets, including a five year old boy.
In past months, with the COVID crisis in mind, I’ve written about the disconnect between the high-achieving Israeli vaccination programme and the struggles in Gaza and West Bank to get hold of any vaccine doses, due to the blockading of supplies and some instances deliberate delays.
I’m not going to pretend however that Israel’s entry in the green list didn’t tempt me to consider travelling out there. In fact I have never been to the region, despite my uncle David being an expert on historical religious practices, beliefs and everyday life during biblical times in Israel and Palestine. So I wouldn’t judge you for hoping to get out there as soon as possible for a vacation, if that’s your preference. Right now though, I’m advocating that a better way to flash some tourist cash right now would be to donate to charities helping the ordinary citizens affected by the crisis.
If you’ve read this far, perhaps you might consider a donation to the International Committee of the Red Cross which is providing assistance to those on both sides who need it, working with their partners the Palestine Red Crescent Society and Israel’s Magen David Adom. They’re also ramping up providing medical assistance in Gaza.
Wishing you all a peaceful week ahead, and happy travels if you’re making tentative steps far away from your front doors this week!