Middle East: Behind the Headlines
July 14 – August 17, 2018
Table of Contents
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Hello! You’re officially part of the OG Family. I’d like to personally welcome you to the Middle East!
We’re so excited that you have joined us, and we look forward to welcoming you in a few short months! Can you picture it? Sitting in the airport, waiting to get one flight closer to Israel and Palestine. When you arrive, you’ll be welcomed by your amazing program leaders, and boy will they be excited to see you.
Much of the uniqueness of this region comes from the land. You will have the opportunity to travel to and experience different terrains and landscapes. You could walk the ancient Via Dolorosa in the Old City, raft the Jordan river, hit the clubs in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, and fall asleep on a tranquil section of the Mediterranean coastline, all in one day!
It will be easy, on this particular program, for some of your preconceived notions of the region and conflict to be enlighteningly challenged. You’ll engage in deep, thoughtful, and meaningful conversations with locals and will learn about their communities from them. These are storytellers, and if you are lucky, you might have the opportunity to fill your mind with their tales. The gears in your mind will turn as you find yourself left with more questions than answers. Despite these stories of triumph and heartbreak, you will witness unwavering hope. If the people of Israel and Palestine share one thing, it is an intensity and passion for life that defines the region, and brings us back year after year.
I want to be honest and say that this whirlwind of an adventure that you have chosen is going to be supremely awesome. But, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention or acknowledge that it will be challenging, and there will be times when you are pushed out of your comfort zone. So, congrats on taking the first leap of faith, and starting this potentially life-changing experience! Throughout your entire program, I’d like to encourage you to keep moving forward. It won’t always be easy, but it will definitely be worthwhile.
On this OG program, you will (re)learn. Are you ready?
The trip of your life is about to begin and these are just a few of the amazing things you can expect!
*Click on each day to get the full details on the day’s excursions*
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 first of many homes by trying local cuisine, picking up the basics of Hebrew and Arabic, 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 while meeting with local experts to orient ourselves to the politics and demographics of Jerusalem.
We will have front row seats to Jerusalem’s amazing display of contradictions: ancient and modern, religious and secular, division and unity. We’ll also have a chance to visit the modern cosmopolitan city of Ramallah, the intense and divided city of Hebron, and other nearby cities in the West Bank. Get ready to kick off our learning about what life, resistance, and resilience look like outside of Jerusalem. This first week is an intense, but integral start to our journey!
Seed Saving in Bethlehem
From Jerusalem, we’ll head to Bethlehem where we’ll meet with the Palestine Heirloom Seed Library (PHSL), our first project-based partnership. Here in Bethlehem, PHSL seeks to tackle the environmental neglect that has come with years of occupation. Through food forestry and collecting seeds that have been handed down by Palestinian farmers for generations, PHSL takes a unique approach to the idea of land reclamation. We’ll lend a hand in this amazing initiative by getting into the dirt, gardening, weeding, and planting.
Our team will have the chance to contribute to the preservation of Palestinian culture and invest in the future generation of Palestinians through a lens of environmentalism.
Tent of Nations
From Bethlehem, we’ll travel into Area C of the West Bank to work and play on the gorgeous Tent of Nations farm, an environmental and educational farm that is at risk of being demolished by the Israeli army. We’ll have an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the people remaining steadfast on their land, and get creative about it too! Between weeding, moving rocks, and shovelling gravel, our group will be chilling by campfires and eating phenomenal vegetarian food. We’ll do our whatever it takes to keep this structure alive!
Breaking Bread with Roots
A centre in the West Bank run by Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, Roots’ 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. Get ready for home cooked meals, philosophical conversations that go late into the night, and maybe even sleeping under the stars!
Throughout our program, we will explore cities in both Israel and Palestine. 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 interests 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!
In the age of Google, we decided that an interactive map is the only way to roll. Feel free to play around with it, make it your browser’s homepage, and share it with your friends and family. Soon enough we’ll be on the ground doing that route for real.
Control over Palestine has changed hands many times over the centuries, with both Jews and Palestinians claiming true ownership. With Anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe in the 1930s, many Jews made their way east to Palestine, fueling Arab-Jewish tensions. After WWII the UN voted for the Partition Plan, dividing the area into separate Arab and Jewish states. The plan was accepted by the Zionists and rejected by Palestinians and surrounding Arab countries, thrusting the region into war.
The following decades saw a string of conflicts, many of which continue to some degree today. Currently, Palestinians live under occupation by the Israeli military. Freedom of movement is restricted, violence is inflicted upon a civilian population, and human rights are constantly violated. Many people in the West Bank live in refugee camps; either driven from their homes or descendants of those who were forced from their original homes during war. The conditions in the camps are cramped, dirty, and oftentimes heartbreaking.
This program will explore the many lived experiences of this land throughout the centuries, asking “what is home?”, engaging multiple narratives of displacement, and learning about the diverse alternative approaches to peace and reconciliation being employed from within the region.
Palestine. The West Bank and Gaza. The Occupied Territories. Judea and Samaria. The future Palestinian state has a long list of names, each reflecting a certain legal, political, or religious ideology.
Theoretically, Palestine is a democracy though democratic elections in 2006 saw Fatah oust Hamas from the West Bank and Hamas oust Fatah from Gaza. In 2014, the two declared a unified government, but it has yet to pan out in practice. In the summer of 2014, the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens set in motion a series of events that culminated in the 50-day war, deemed “Operation Protective Edge” by Israel. The operation was highly destructive especially in Gaza, resulting in high casualties, many of which were civilians.
The Gaza Strip continues to struggle to rebuild and recover, as tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem have seen a recent spike due to fears that Israel will change the “status quo” at the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount.
Still, there is also a lot of variety to be found in the West Bank from the labyrinthine alleys of Nablus’ Old City to the bars of Ramallah, from the churches of Bethlehem to tragedy that is Hebron. There is much to see, and the locals are eager to show you. The one constant in the West Bank is the hospitality. If you are invited to have tea with an old shopkeeper or to share a meal in a refugee’s home, say yes!
Population: 2.6 million in West Bank, 1.7 million in Gaza
Capital City: Jerusalem, Ramallah (de-facto administrative capital)
Major Languages: Arabic
Major Religions: Islam and Christianity (mostly in the Ramallah and
Monetary Unit: New Israeli Shekel (ILS)
Time Zone: UTC +2:00
Israel is a Jewish and democratic state founded in 1948, though many would argue that its history began decades before when the first waves of “aliyah” made their way from Europe to British-controlled Palestine.
Beyond the conflict, there are many sources of beauty, innovation, and inspiration in Israel. One can drive from the sunny beaches of Tel Aviv to the mountains of the Golan and back down to the sacred wonders of Jerusalem, all in a day’s work.
Israel is a country of contrasts. Being at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and Asia, these cultural influences have left its mark on the country. Tiny Arab villages dot the hilly landscape in the north, Beduouin tents brave the dust and sandy desert in the south, while modern, beachy Tel Aviv and intense Jerusalem lay opposite of each other in the centre.
Israeli society is a tapestry of East and West, religious and secular, modern and traditional. It is at the forefront of medicine and technology, and also home to some of the most sacred sites in the world. Israelis are generally tough, direct, but sweet and sincere people. They will (possibly in the same day) hand you their baby while they pay for their groceries, cut in front of you in line for the bus, and invite you to Shabbat dinner. Say yes!
Population: 7.6 million
Capital City: Jerusalem
Major Languages: Hebrew, Arabic, English
Major Religions: Judaism, Islam, and small Christian, Druze, and Ba’hai minorities
Monetary Unit: New Israeli Shekel (ILS)
Time Zone: UTC +2:00
Israel has state of the art medical facilities, top-quality resources, and is considered one of the world’s healthiest countries. Typical health problems in the region are similar to those in North America, and often only routine vaccinations are recommended (though you should talk to your travel doctor about what’s right for you!) Water-borne and mosquito-borne illnesses are very low risk in the region, though the hot and arid climate puts travelers at risk of dehydration. With a hat, some sunscreen, and a refillable water bottle, you’ll be good to go.
As a well-established and experienced international travel operator, Operation Groundswell takes active precautions to help keep you safe and secure while overseas on your program. We take travel safety very seriously. To learn more about our Risk Management System, click here.
Once we confirm program enrolment numbers, we’ll e-mail you with the go ahead to book those flights (if we haven’t already!) We’ve provided a bit of information on booking flights below so that you can start checking things out, but don’t book anything until you get the go ahead.
Arrivals & Departures
When it’s time to book those flights, be sure to choose one that arrives into Tel Aviv, Israel, Ben Gurion Airport on July 14 anytime between 8:00 am and 10:00 pm. You will depart from Tel Aviv, Israel, Ben Gurion Airport on Aug 17 anytime between 8:00 am and 10:00 pm.
We suggest checking Kayak, Orbitz, Cheapoair, Google Flights, and other flight sites to get the cheapest rate.
If you want to arrive in the country early or leave for home later, this is your call and you can book flights that meet your needs. However, if you arrive before the program begins, you will not be under the auspices of Operation Groundswell. We cannot guarantee that anyone will meet you at the airport or arrange your accommodations. You will be entirely responsible for yourself until the first day of the program.
You will receive an email (if you haven’t already) with a link to fill out your flight information. You can fill this out once you’ve booked your flight closer to the program date. This information is crucial for us to arrange your airport pick-ups and drop-offs so be sure to fill it out once it’s time!
Travelers from Western countries do not need to apply for visas in advance. Upon arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, Western travelers are typically issued free tourist visas (usually valid for 90 days).
**Note: OG cannot guarantee entry to any participants, as there are many factors beyond our control. If denied entry to the country, we cannot refund your program fee.
Remember, you are personally responsible for obtaining a visa and confirming your visa requirements. Resources such as www.visahq.com may be helpful, but it is always best to consult your destination’s embassy directly.
While your program fee does not cover visa costs, we are here to answer any questions you might have if a pre-trip application is necessary. If there are any special documents required to receive a visa for your destination, let us know! While we can’t guarantee your approval, we will help out in any way we can. The sooner you let us know what you need from us, the sooner we can get back to you.
As the bible of backpacking goes, we’ll be sleeping in every kind of place imaginable! At times we’ll be based in a Jerusalem apartment or hostel, which will either have shared rooms or larger open areas where we’ll sleep on mattresses. When traveling in the West Bank and other areas of Israel, we’ll be staying in hostels, tents, community centres, and camping outside. Some accommodations will include a kitchen where we will be doing our own cooking, other places we’ll have food prepared for us. Either way, cleaning up comes along with that so be prepared for some chores and whistle while you work!
After spending your first couple of weeks on program learning the lay of the land, getting comfortable, and acquiring all the tools to become an ethical traveller, you’ll be off to start your Independent Travel Time, or ITT!
This is your opportunity to put your new skills to use, get out there on your own (or with a couple of friends) and show your program leaders that you can do it without them by your side! (But don’t worry, they’re only ever a phone call away!)
While some participants choose to make plans ahead of time, it can sometimes be hard to know exactly what you’ll want to do over ITT until you’ve spent a bit of time in country, and have made connections with your fellow participants.
Our advice? Fly by the seat of your backpacker pants! Rest assured that once you arrive, your program leaders will be ready to talk through the many amazing options the region has to offer, which ones are farther away than you’d think, and help you make a plan. After spending a few weeks in the region, not only will you have a better idea of what you really want to do with this time, but you’ll be able to score the sweet in-person deals that you can’t get when booking online. Double win!
If, however, you would feel more comfortable making plans in advance, we suggest finding a refundable choice so that you can maintain your flexibility!
Because we’re not wheelie-baggers, we’re backpackers! We recommend going to an outdoor adventure store and getting a pack fitted to you.
If you buy new shoes, be sure to break them in before the program.
Israel is notoriously casual. No need to dress to impress here. The weather will be generally hot to very hot, so light and breezy clothes are your friends. Shorts and tank tops are fine to wear around the house, but you need to pack more conservative items for when we visit religious areas and for when we are in the Palestinian Territories (this means covering knees and shoulders.) Our volunteer work will most likely be hot and dirty. Pack sturdy (conservative) clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirt, paint, or baby slobber on. Packing one lightweight sweater is also a good idea as it can get chilly, especially in higher elevations like Hebron and Nablus. We will have laundry available, so no need to bring the whole closet!
All program leaders are equipped with first aid kits, so though it is useful to have basics like Advil or Tylenol, you don’t need to pack a pharmacy. There will be a medical form sent out closer to the program start date so you can outline any specific mental or physical health issues we should be aware of before the program. This completed medical history form signed by a physician is mandatory for participation in all OG programs. Click here to learn more.
No need for a computer, iPhone, iPad, or anything similar as we will have access to a computer when we have access to the internet!
We recommend that you bring $200 USD, which you can conveniently change into regional currency at an in-country currency exchange. While one of the easiest options tends to be withdrawing local currently from an ATM using your debit card, it’s always good to have some exchangeable cash on hand in case of emergencies.
At Operation Groundswell, we forge partnerships with local NGOs and charities to work with them on community-requested projects. This means that the communities we work with decide what kind of partnership they are looking for, how we as volunteers can be best put to use, and how our community contribution can most effectively help them achieve their goals. It also means we don’t always know in advance what will be needed in our partner communities or how we can best serve. Seasonal weather patterns, a changing political climate, and organizational needs may change so get ready to adapt like a true backpacktivist!
Though we spend solid days on the ground getting our hands dirty and volunteering, a larger chunk of our time is spent learning from our partners to better understand the underlying issues and challenges that they face. We’re not going to “save the Middle East” in our short time together, but we will be making deep connections with and learning immensely from the real change makers on the ground!
The Palestine Heirloom Seed Library initiative was started by Vivien Sansour to tackle the obstacles faced by Palestinian farmers since the occupation. Knowing the seed not only represents a connection to the land, to history, to the future, and to identity, the seed is what sustains life in the West Bank – and inasmuch is a form of resistance. Cornered between large agro-business, climate change, limited funding, and Israeli occupation, Palestinian farming practices are under threat. The PHSL works to bring certain heirloom crops back from extinction, but also to preserve the knowledge and oral histories that go along with those crops as well. Learn more.
Tent of Nations is an organization that aims to bring people together across difference by building bridges between people, and land. Located just outside of Bethlehem near a town called Battir, the ToN farm serves as a meeting grounds, and educational space to build understanding across people from many different countries, cultures, languages, and perspectives. In their fight to keep their land, ToN employs many strategies: working the soil, hosting long term international volunteers, building structures, and engaging legal methods, as well. As a decidedly non-violent movement, Tent of Nations believes that the answer is neither to perpetuate hate, nor to back down – but to reconnect to the land, and each other. Learn more.
Roots aims to create a space for Israelis and Palestinians to partner, and work towards a paradigm shift by sharing stories, developing a mutual understanding in solidarity with one another, and building a literal model of coexistence. Located on a piece of land in the West Bank that is essentially surrounded by Israeli settlements, Roots promotes relationship building across languages, cultures, and religions in hopes of using empathy as a tool to challenge hostile climates. They host workshops, women’s groups, leadership seminars, dinners, and also have a small farm that generates a little income and is used to supply some food to needy families in the area.
OG has been working with Roots since their founding in 2014, and we’re excited to participate in another year of support, story-telling, learning, and allyship, Oh, and the most delicious cucumbers, ever! Learn more.
How are you?
Aiwa (or na/am)/La
Stop or enough
How much is?
Stop or enough
How much (does this cost)?
Kama ze ole?
Our main phone line is 1-888-422-0164. Our office hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.
In case of emergency while you’re on program, please ask your family or next of kin to call OG’s main line at 1-888-422-0164 and follow the prompt. On-call coordinators are available 24 hours a day for emergencies related to current programs or participants.
To reach us via email for all matters, contact [email protected].
If you have any financial inquiries, contact our financial support team at [email protected].
As you prepare for your journey, OG will periodically contact you with important information about logistics, payments, safety, and more. Please check your spam folder regularly! Consider adding [email protected] and [email protected] to your contacts or approved sender list to make sure that our emails are delivered.
For more information on passports, visas, travel insurance, and other general travel logistics, don’t forget to consult your handy dandy Welcome Package!