Middle East

Behind the Headlines

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Middle East

Behind the Headlines

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  • Explore the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while living in Jerusalem, one of the holiest cities in the world.
  • Work with Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization that fights injustice on both sides of the green line.
  • Hike overnight down to the Dead Sea to catch the sunrise, jump in the Sea of Galilee, and walk along Tel Aviv’s beautiful beaches.
  • From Nablus to Eilat, get dozens of different perspectives on the conflict from those who live with it every day.
Program Dates


May 31 – July 5

July 13 – August 17



To Be Announced


Program Fee



Community Contribution



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Sample Itinerary

*This itinerary is based on our previous experience with the region. Programs change every year based on the needs of our partners. This should give you a sense of what our program may look like.

Orientation – Jerusalem
Following the airport pickups from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel-Aviv, we’ll go straight to Jerusalem for our in-country orientation. The team will settle into our spot in the city by trying local cuisine, picking up the basics of the local language, and seeing local historical sites such as the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock. We will visit museums like the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and the Museum on the Seam, which deals with co-existence through art and media. We’ll also have a chance to meet with our primary partners, Rabbis for Human Rights, to discuss the current political situation and what direction our work will take us. This first week is a fitting start to our journey.

A long-time OG partner, Rabbis for Human Rights helps us balance the reality on the ground with the ideas behind the conflict. The nature of the project with RHR depends on what actions are going on while we are in country. In year’s past we’ve dug a cistern with locals in the West Bank and worked on a farm that acts as a neutral space between an Israeli settlement and a nearby Palestinian town. We also worked with an Israeli organization that brings young Bedouins and Palestinians to the sea, many for the first time in their lives.


Throughout the volunteer project, we will explore cities in both Israel and Palestine. In Palestine we will tour the intense, divided city of Hebron with Breaking the Silence (an Israeli organization of former soldiers that speak out about their service in the Occupied Territories), hang out in modern, largely secular Ramallah, as well as visit some of the small villages that dot the countryside. In Israel we will bike along the boardwalk in liberal, metropolitan city of Tel Aviv, experience the communal lifestyle of the Israeli kibbutz, and hike in the lush mountains of the north. Moving through these very different communities, we will have the opportunity to speak with locals and get a diverse perspective on the region’s tense political situation.


We’ll be staying at our base camp, an apartment or hostel in Jerusalem where we can look forward to the old markets and bathhouses of Nablus and tasting the best knafeh (a Palestinian sweet) in the region. As part of our consensus-based decision making model, we will also get to plan group trips at least once a week. Some of these options? World famous religious sites in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jericho and Jerusalem, river hikes, and experiencing the non-stop lifestyle that is Tel Aviv!

Independent Travel Time (ITT)
Our crew will also have Independent Travel Time (ITT) – a staple of all Operation Groundswell programs. You can travel independently if you desire but everyone is urged to travel in pairs or small groups. During this time, you will not under the auspices of the organized program and are entirely responsible for yourselves. You will be given the emergency contact number of program leaders during ITT for any advice or safety concerns.


The pyramids in Egypt? The wonders of Petra? Maybe even a quick Euro trip? ITT is the ideal time for you to learn more about your specific interest, whether it’s by volunteering, traveling, or just relaxing.

Disorientation – Tel Aviv
The group will reconvene for a program debrief known as ‘disorientation’ prior to flying home. This will likely take place in Tel Aviv, close to two necessities: the airport and the beach. We will tell stories of ITT, reflect on the program, what we learned and our accomplishments, how we can stay in touch, and what future projects we can collaborate on. There are always a few surprises and a few tears before everyone heads off to the airport or continues on their journey abroad!


Independent Travel Time is your opportunity to go out there and explore on your own terms!

  • Kick up your adrenaline by rafting along the ancient Jordan River.
  • Explore Jordan’s lost city of Petra and discover its archaeological wonder.
  • Visit an artists’ colony in Haifa and hike in the Galil in the north.


With OG, you live like the locals.

We will be staying in Jerusalem in a rented apartment as our home base. The apartment will most likely have warm showers, full kitchen, basic furnishings, and mattresses. But be prepared because some nights we will be camping out under the stars in the beautiful Negev desert (woohoo!). We’ll cook our own food, play, drink, and live together in a cozy Jerusalem apartment.

Meet Your Program Leaders

Two of Miriam’s favorite things in life are pickled foods and aggressive walking/cutting in line, which may be what attracted her to the Middle East in the first place. Having grown up in the dusty High Desert of Central Oregon, the climate wasn’t a stretch either. She’s spent time doing everything from interning at international NGO’s in Tel Aviv, to de-horning calves in a northern Kibbutz, and after rounding out her resume with a season as an OG Program Leader she has decided to stay on and make the Middle East her permanent home. You are most likely to find her sitting on her balcony in Jerusalem dreaming up ideas for this year’s program, eating a pickle.

Erin O'DonnellErin has been captivated by the Middle East ever since she visited Dubai as a sunburnt seventeen year old. Since then she has travelled the region and spent a year living in Israel and Palestine, where she studied while working for social justice NGOs. She is thrilled to be joining OG after recently graduating from New York University with a degree in Middle Eastern and global studies. When she’s not eating food, talking about food, or thinking about food, she is entertaining the masses with her heavily accented Hebrew and Arabic.

Middle East

The Way We See It

The Israel you see on TV isn’t Israel. And well, you just don’t see Palestine on TV at all. We’re here to peel back the layers.

On Israel’s surface, we see bustling metropolises, busy farmland, the absurdly rich, and the overly destitute. We see everything you might see in any snapshot of Canada or the U.S. But then you peel back a layer.

Wedged in between the newly constructed buildings, we see remnants of a different time. We see ancient tombs, caverns, and craters beside shopping malls, restaurants, and theaters. Smells of rich spices and freshly baked bread waft out of the shuk (marketplace) and into high-rise condos. Our feet tread on ancient cobblestone paths as taxis and cars zoom past us. We are in a land of walking contradictions.

Israel’s history is long, complex, and disputed at every turn. History looms over this country heavily and for the people of Israel–regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity– the future of the state is always in question.

Then there’s Palestine, a place rarely seen in the media. And when it is, they’re calling it Gaza or the West Bank. But the Palestine that we know is rich with culture and hospitality, yet tinged with sadness and despair. From the outside, it might seem like more of the latter two. But then you peel back a layer.

Palestine has its own set of contradictions – the fight between radical and moderate, religious and secular, old and new. Villages surrounded by olive groves bustle around marketplaces where donkeys and cars vie for a piece of the street. Store owners will try and up-sell their merchandise to you, but after five minutes of chit-chat they are offering to take you to meet their family over dinner. All the while, the threat of displacement or disenfranchisement leaves the Palestinian people in a state of perpetual uncertainty.

But don’t take it from us – come hear the stories yourself.

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