Backpacking in The Middle East | Operation Groundswell

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.
  • Meet 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.
  • Work and stay at a West Bank community centre with Roots, a grassroots initiative led by local Palestinians and Israelis to create a physical space for mutual understanding and dialogue.

Program Dates


May 29 – July 3

July 11 – August 15


Program Fee + Community Contribution  

$2,935 USD + $615 USD


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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 airport pickups from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel-Aviv, we’ll go straight to Jerusalem for our in-country orientation. Our team will settle into our apartment in the city by trying local cuisine, picking up Hebrew and Arabic basics, and seeing local historical sites such as the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Dome of the Rock.


We’ll educate ourselves with a crash course on the history, politics, and implications of the conflict and meet with local experts to orient ourselves to the politics and demographics of Jerusalem. We’ll also have a chance to meet with our longtime partners, Rabbis for Human Rights, to discuss the current political situation, to learn about their work to create positive change, and to help us contextualize our own experiences and the direction our work will take us. This first week is an intense but important start to our journey!

Community Connections and Volunteer Projects

We’ll be staying at an apartment or hostel in Jerusalem for the large part of our program where we can look forward to really living like the locals do – grocery shopping in the Mahane Yehuda open air market, sipping coffee in the eclectic, hipster-vibed neighborhood of Nachlaot, spending weekends camping under the stars in the Negev desert, and always being a quick walk away from the Old City, home to some of the holiest sites in the world. We will have front row seats to Jerusalem’s amazing display of contradictions; ancient and modern, religious and secular, division, and unity.


In the midst of all this, we will get deep into our learning and work with one of our main project partners: the Roots Project. A centre in the West Bank run by Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, the project’s goal is to bring the two often divided peoples together. Their farm, where we will be both living and working, is the hub of their outreach program in the West Bank, which includes monthly meetings between Israeli and Palestinian families, a women’s group, a summer camp, language learning, and cultural exchanges. In past years, we’ve worked with locals to plant trees, dig a cistern, and even build a playground in preparation for Roots’ inaugural summer camp.


Throughout our 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 speaking out about their service in the Occupied Territories), hang out in the modern and 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 the 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.

Independent Travel Time (ITT)

A staple of all Operation Groundswell programs is Independent Travel Time (ITT). You can travel independently if you desire but we encourage everyone to travel in pairs or small groups. The wonders of Petra? The enchanting Jordanian desert of Wadi Rum? Hiking the Israel Trail? The mysticism of Zfat or surfing in Haifa? ITT is the ideal time for you to learn more about your specific interest, whether it’s by volunteering, traveling, or just relaxing!


**Please note that you are not under the auspices of the organized program during ITT. Team members will be given the emergency contact number of program leaders during ITT for any advice.

Disorientation – Tel Aviv

Our group will reconvene for a program debrief known as ‘disorientation’ prior to flying home. This will likely take place beachside in Tel Aviv where 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 for our goodbyes!

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What’s Included?


A comprehensive program itinerary and educational curriculum focused on the issues facing your specific region


Experienced and caring program leaders with you 24 hours a day


All lodging and accommodations throughout the program


Three local meals a day


All group tours, entrance fees, and excursions


All group transportation on the ground


Regular discussions and workshops to help you internalize and reflect on your experience


Support from OGHQ whenever you need it


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 wonders.
      • Visit an artists’ colony in Haifa and hike in the Galil in the north.
      • Hop the pond over to Istanbul, Greece, Italy, or Cyprus.


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

ElhamMarhaba, my name is Elham Nasser Eddin and I am a cheese addict. In my free time I like to wear dresses, sit randomly somewhere and pretend to write – makes me feel like a Disney princess. I used to think (still do sometimes) that in closed places people could read my mind – and that is why I am always thinking intelligent thoughts! I was born in Jerusalem and there’s nothing exciting about that fact, but I could totally make up a good story about how my parents and I ended up living here if you want (it would involve a camel!). I will most definitely make you feel horrible about your Arabic accent but you can shake me back to modesty once you get a feel for my Hebrew.

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.

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