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Due to high demand and interest, we run two Middle East programs in the summer.  Take your pick!

PROGRAM 1: MAY 26 – JUNE 30, 2014


PROGRAM 2: JULY 7 – AUGUST 10, 2014




  • Explore the intricacies of the conflict while living in Jerusalem, one of the holiest cities in the world.
  • Walk along both sides of the disputed ‘separation barrier’ and take in the rich graffiti that lines the wall.
  • Work with Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization that fights injustice on both sides of the green line.
  • Take a tour of Hebron with ‘Breaking the Silence’ – a group of ex-Israeli soldiers speaking out against the occupation through personal anecdotes.
  • Hike overnight down to the Dead Sea for sunrise, jump in the sea of Galilee and walk along Tel Aviv’s beautiful beaches.
  • Sleep under the stars in the Negev desert.






The Israel you see on TV isn’t Israel.

Israel is a country of layers. On the surface today, 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 US. 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. 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.


You just don’t see Palestine on TV.

And when you do, 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.



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

  • Raft along the ancient Jordan River.
  • Explore the rock-cut archeological city of Petra, Jordan.
  • Visit an artists’ colony in Haifa and hike in the Galil in the north.

Exploring both sides of the wall
Sunset by the desert
Jerusalem by night
Negev desert



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 (awesome!). We’ll cook our own food, play, drink and live together in a cozy Jerusalem apartment.


*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.

Our program is unique in offering young people the opportunity to explore both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide with an impartial focus. Simply click the headers to read more! 


Following the airport pickups from Ben Gurion Airport, the group will have an in-country orientation in Jerusalem. Participants will settle into the city by trying local cuisine, picking up the basics of the local language, and seeing local historical sites such as the Wailing Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Museums like the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and the Museum on the Seam, which deals with co-existence through art and media, will be visited. We will also visit Bedouin villages in the south, start talking about the conflict, and plan our activities for the program. This first week is a fitting start to our journey.


Week two has us beginning our project with Rabbis for Human Rights. A long-time OG partner, this group 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. Last year we dug a cistern with locals in the Hebron Hills and worked in a school for children with disabilities in Jerusalem. Throughout the volunteer project, we will explore the city of Hebron with Breaking the Silence, (an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military who work to expose the truth about life in the Occupied Territories), the city of Rammalah (headquarters for most international NGOs), Qalandya (a Palestinian village in the west bank), and various settlements across the Green Line. Moving through these very different communities in Israel and the West Bank, we will have the opportunity to speak with locals and get a diverse perspective on the region’s tense political situation. Throughout our time volunteering, team members can also look forward to the old markets and bath-houses 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, choosing from the many options and taking ownership over our experience. Some of these options? There are visits to communal farms known as ‘kibbutzim’, religious sites like Nazareth to see the largest Christian church in the Middle East, and tours of Israeli settlements and Palestinian villages.


A staple of all Operation Groundswell programs is Independent Travel Time (ITT). You can travel independently if you desire but everyone is urged to travel in pairs or small groups. During this time, team members are not under the auspices of the organized program and are entirely responsible for themselves. Team members are given the emergency contact number of program organizers during ITT for any advice or safety concerns.  The pyramids in Egypt? The wonders of Petra? The beaches of Sinai?  ITT is the ideal time for team members to learn more about their specific interest, whether it’s by volunteering, traveling, or just relaxing.


The group will reconvene for a program debrief known as the ‘Disorientation’ prior to flying home. This will likely take place in a hostel 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 before everyone heads off to the airport for some tearful goodbyes.


Get ready to spend six weeks with some of the raddest people on earth…we’re not even exaggerating! Just click on their name to read more about them. 


Matt WalshDriving coast to coast across the United States six times while in graduate school whet this California native’s appetite for adventure. After completing his M.A. in International Affairs at Florida State University, Matt took his first trip to Israel and Palestine. He has been involved with various NGOs and projects in the West Bank and has been traveling off and on to Europe and the Middle East for the last five years. Walsh believes that the essence of life is new and fresh experiences. From walking in his ancestors’ footsteps up the Irish coast to a Passover feast in the last Samaritan village in the Holy Land, Walsh has been willing and eager to scratch that travel itch whenever it rears its head. When he’s not traveling, Matthew is busy writing (with varying levels of “unsuccess”), working any job he can get his hands on, and being a fanatical San Francisco Giants baseball fan.


Mariam Fisher, Middle East Behind the Headlines

Miriam began her life in Papatoetoe, New Zealand, but was quickly transferred stateside to the high desert of Central Oregon.  Growing up in the Pacific Northwest instilled in her an appreciation for the outdoors, quirky characters, and craft beer. Still, despite the allure of comprehensive recycling and all those bike lanes, she is compelled to cross a few borders every year to maintain happiness. In university Miriam dedicated her studies to international relations, diplomacy, and human geography, and is passionate about cross-cultural communication and experiential education. Naturally, this means travel.  Having spent time in South and Central America, New Zealand, and Europe she’s been around a bit, but keeps ending up in the Middle East. Something about the hummus, hot desert sun, and infamous Israeli dumpster cats keep calling her back. Last year she lived in South Tel Aviv/Jaffa and worked with a variety of organizations ranging from a large, international NGO, to playing soccer with some local 11 year olds. When she’s not planning her next adventure Miriam might be found salsa dancing, hanging out with her non-dumpster cat, or (attempting) to cook up some sort of deliciousness.

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