Israel and the Palestinian Territories abound with volunteer opportunities. In Israel these are often on kibbutzim or archaeological digs, or at ILH hostels or environmental organisations, while in the Palestinian Territories they often involve helping the many NGOs working to improve everyday life for Palestinians.
For a list of Israeli organisations interested in foreign volunteers, go to the websites of Ruach Tova or the National Council on Volunteering (click on ‘Volunteer Opportunities’ and then ‘Visitors’).
There are manifold volunteer opportunities across the West Bank. Groups that welcome volunteers include:
Since Israel’s founding, hundreds of thousands of young people – especially Europeans – have spent time as kibbutz volunteers. For many, the months spent mucking cow sheds, washing up in the communal dining room, picking vegetables and chatting up other volunteers were a highlight of their youth.
These days, the kibbutz movement is well past its heyday, with all but 70 of the country’s 270 kibbutzim having decided to transform themselves into non-communal villages. However, it's still possible to volunteer on a couple of dozen kibbutzim. The work is manual (often in the dining hall, laundry or tourist services), work weeks are long (eight hours a day, six days a week) and the monetary compensation mere pocket money (400NIS a month), but you get housing (in a room for two or three people), food, laundry service, health insurance, the chance to meet other young people and learn some Hebrew, and an unparalleled opportunity to immerse yourself in kibbutz life. Volunteers have access to sports facilities, the pool, cultural events (eg movies in the evening) and the pub. Tours and activities are often available on days off (three a month). For one Brit’s inside perspective, see www.kibbutzvolunteer.com.
Kibbutz volunteers must be between the ages of 18 or 19 and 35 and be willing to commit for between two and six months. You must apply in your home country at least a month before your planned arrival; a medical form is required. You’re unlikely to know in advance which kibbutz has space. You have to pay for your own air travel, pitch in for health insurance (three/six months costs just 340/440NIS) and cover the cost of a volunteer’s visa (three/six months costs 110/310NIS).
For citizens of the US and Canada, see the New York–based Kibbutz Program Centre.
For candidates from everywhere else, contact the Tel Aviv–based Kibbutz Program Center.
Travellers used to be able to turn up in Tel Aviv and find casual work in bars and restaurants but these days the pickings are thin. One option in that city might be to enquire at guesthouses and restaurants near the beach.
Working legally requires a permit from the Ministry of the Interior and, as in North America or Western Europe, these aren’t easy to get – with one exception. If you would qualify for an oleh (immigrant) visa under the Law of Return – ie if you have at least one Jewish parent or grandparent and have documents to prove it – you can arrange a working visa with relative ease.
If you do find work and discover that you have been cheated by your employer, you can get free advice from Kav LaOved Worker's Hotline; see its website for the times English-speaking staff are on hand.
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