Behind the Headlines in the Middle East

Video and Photos

About

Control over Palestine has changed hands many times over the centuries, with both Jews and Palestinians claiming true ownership. On this unique program, Operation Groundswell goes beyond the news articles and polarizing rhetoric often found in the mainstream media to really explore the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We will explore the complex history, political currents, and cultural similarities and schisms that have created one of the most nuanced and controversial conflicts of today. We’ll get in touch with the many lived experiences of this land throughout the centuries, asking that essential question: “what is home?” We will engage with multiple narratives of displacement and learn about the diverse alternative approaches to peace and reconciliation being employed from within the region.

More than the politics, we’ll discover the many beautiful people, places, and events that happen every single day that are never reported on.

Highlights
  • 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.

Questions & Answers

I did the Middle East: Behind the Headlines in summer of 2015 (do it!), and I was definitely on a budget. One thing that's great is that you are paying for the majority of your expenses prior to leaving so you don't have to stress so much about cash once you get on that plane... That being said, it really depends on your lifestyle and how much of a nightlife you want. Most nights I was busy or too...

Reviews

86%
based on 9 reviews
  • Impact 7.6
  • Support 9
  • Fun 8.7
  • Value 8.4
  • Safety 8.9
Showing 1 - 9 of 9
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Elyse
10/10

Everything that I needed it to be

This program was truly amazing and inspiring. The PLs (Program Leaders) were perfect and worked well together despite being very different people (they really made their differences work for them and make them stronger as a leadership team). The organizations that we worked with were responsibly chosen and we were never in a place that they didn't have something for us to do (I have had previous experiences volunteering where we definitely were not needed). Additionally, the people are what made the trip. The community that we built with each other was phenomenal and a safe space for everything from LGBTQIA+ community to people who had struggled with addiction or mental illness, etc. This is the most social conscious trip that I have ever been on and would recommend it highly to the conscientious traveller.

Yes, I recommend
Default avatar
Klinton
7/10

Dancing through Life

I got the chance to attend a Palestinian wedding with fellow OGers, but it got real interesting when I realized the friends I had come with were women and we were going to be separated for the entirety of the ceremony.

No booze at Palestinian weddings either, just lots of coffee and cigarettes and smiles and dancing. Me with my minimal Arabic just grinning foolishly and that awkward moment when, atop the groom's shoulders, the music stops and the DJ calls in his equally minimal English, "my friend! Where you come from?"

Pause. Swallow. "Ah-America!" and not wanting to be from anywhere at that moment and the wave of silence in the dirt street of a small West Bank village. The pause passing and everyone around me yelling ebulliently and we all continue the dance.

One man, afterwards, pulls me aside and explains this was one of the few moments in their culture where they could be happy. That life was very difficult and did I see? Me taking a cigarette from his leathery long fingers and rheumy eyes, listening to him tell me in an earnest and stern voice that life must be enjoyed at some point, even in the hell that Palestine is.

That's Israel to me. That's Palestine. It's some unspoken and prehistoric pain that a wistful stare can stir in the bowels of the stranger, the foreigner that I was.

How can this program be improved?
I would recommend appealing more towards an experienced backpacker crowd rather than the young college students that mostly made up the program. The application seemed to imply that 20-30 year olds would make up the group but the majority were 19-21 years old.
Yes, I recommend
Default avatar
Rachel
10/10

Changing my Perspective

I enjoyed this program so much. I was at a point in my life in which I needed a restart if you will. I jumped on this program really late in the game. They were accommodating, understanding, and helpful. I have never been to the Middle East and I honestly had no expectations. I was glad to be with people who were in similar boats, and that the group was relatively diverse. I didn't go to be a tourist, and so I was pleased to find that there was not too much of that happening. The purpose to learn and be immersed in the culture was clear. The leadership was also amazing. I felt safe and cared for the whole time. I left the trip feeling like a new human. Something shifted in me. I began to look more at what I was actually passionate about and what my next step should be. My perspective on my life, and those around me, shifted.

How can this program be improved?
I would probably make this a week longer so that I could work more places and get more time in Palestine.
Yes, I recommend
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Sarah
10/10

Middle East: Behind the Headlines

The time I spent in volunteering and traveling in Israel with Operation Groundswell is one of the best times I have ever spent abroad. I was forced to face difficult situations emotionally and physically in our work there and even in our travel there. I grew so much for it, and it has inspired me to go back. It made me realize that there's also so much that can and should be done over there, and that if more people were willing, we'd be able to relay a bigger impact on the communities over there.

Yes, I recommend
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Alex
10/10

Amazing Time

I went to Israel for 6 weeks with this group! It was a great time. I met some amazing people, and the leaders were very helpful! We were able to volunteer and to travel which made the program very unique!

How can this program be improved?
It would have been nice if the actual participants could have some input on the planning (places to go)
More volunteering also would have been better!
Yes, I recommend
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Loren
10/10

Amazing Experience

This is an amazing way to explore the region. There's lots of travel so you get a good sense of a variety of cities, while still having a home base in Jerusalem. The program leaders are experienced and know how to navigate the area. I think this is the best and most unbiased way to really get behind the scenes and try to understand the complicated history while visiting Israel. I can't recommend it enough!

Yes, I recommend
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Zoe
10/10

A Fulfilling Experience Abroad

From the first moment I landed (at 2 am) to the moment I left (also at 2 am...oy), I felt like I had lived as much of the local experience as I possibly could have- and that's what makes OG so great. The trip leaders and the program itinerary effectively balanced experiencing the social life of both Israel and Palestine, learning about the cultures and the conflict, and volunteering.

How can this program be improved?
The volunteer work we did was actually quite fun and the people we volunteered for were truly inspirational in the way they view their situation, however I'm not entirely sure of the greater significance of the work we did. Although just having the opportunity to work with these people and listen to them talk about their life experiences proved to be an incredible learning experience and I wouldn't have changed that aspect of it at all.
Yes, I recommend
Default avatar
Canada07
1/10

They will cancel last minute and leave it to you to pick up the pieces.

I had put a deposit on my program before the "early bird" deadline and started raising money. Near February OG really encouraged me to get my plane ticket asap so I could confirm the times and dates with them, so I did.

In March my trip was spontaneously cancelled through EMAIL. No person-to-person explanation. I had to contact them for information.
At this point all they could offer me was the trip later in the summer, or another program which started later and the refund of what I had paid them up to date. I could do neither of the other trips because I am student and was counting on those months to work (my original program was early in the summer).

It took me 2 months of fighting with airlines to get my plane ticket reimbursed which totaled over 2K.

Worse more, summer plans that I was dead-set on going through with were squashed with too little time left in the academic year to plan an alternate trip. I spent since November being in contact with OG and pumping myself up for this experience.

I would not recommend this organization to anyone. I spoke with at least 4 others, some in different programs, who this happened to. All they advertise are the happy stories, and fail to talk about the people who get messed over each year in non-refundable tickets and broken plans.

Tread lightly.

No, I don't recommend
Default avatar
lofbcyi
9/10

Middle East:Behind the Headlines

My time with OG was amazing. The trip is a great balance between helping, exploring and learning about the community. The leaders know the region and are great guides and friends. Just as advertised the volunteering projects we participated in were meaningful to the communities we stayed in, and the trips to different regions was educational as well as fun.

Out of all the volunteer trips I've been on this has been the only one that allowed us to question our motives and actions - and the willingness to do so shows how much OG cares about the quality and intention of their programs.

Yes, I recommend

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About Operation Groundswell

Operation Groundswell is all about backpacking with a purpose. With ethical travel at the crux of our philosophy, Operation Groundswell designs financially accessible programs that tell a story, addressing key challenges unique to each region and...