OSU student spent holiday in war zone

2010-01-14T22:35:00Z OSU student spent holiday in war zoneBy Cheryl Hatch, Gazette-Time reporter Corvallis Gazette Times
January 14, 2010 10:35 pm  • 

At 16, Jessica Campbell launched a successful grass-roots campaign at Cottage Grove High School to remove an advertiser-supported news channel that was being shown in the school's classrooms.

It was the start of a career of activism that hit another milestone in late December: That's when Campbell, now 21 and an Oregon State University senior in bioinformatics, joined other students and people from 43 countries in the Gaza Freedom March, an event organized to bring attention to the conflict between Israel and Gaza and the plight of the Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire.

Campbell had no experience in the Middle East and no previous international experience; nevertheless, she signed up as soon as she heard about the project. She and others in Oregon raised $7,000, of which $2,000 covered her travel expenses. Campbell and Seton Hall graduate Julia Hurley raised a total of $17,125 for school supplies.

"It's a continuation of my human rights and human dignity activism in high school," Campbell said. "There's such a serious blockade by Israel. It (my participation) was certainly political. It was also very humanitarian."

Originally, the event's promoters, including CODEPINK, a women's anti-war group, announced 1,300 foreign participants would join 50,000 local residents in Gaza for the march.

Ultimately, 87 international participants joined several hundred local residents in the approximate two-mile "march to the infamous wall at Gaza," Campbell said. The OSU student was among the marchers but she fought for her place on the bus.

"We were officially banned by the Egyptian government. We were followed around by secret police," Campbell said.

Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, intervened in her capacity as president of the Egyptian Red Crescent and permitted 100 marchers to cross into Gaza. Campbell faced a tough decision: board the bus for Gaza or stay behind in solidarity with the others who were denied passage.

"We had amassed an incredible amount of aid," Campbell said. "I really needed to see those school supplies got to Gaza."

They had used the donations to purchase thousands of backpacks and notebooks in Cairo.

In the 48 hours she spent in Gaza, Campbell visited an elementary school and a family from a refugee camp.

"There's a giant hole in the school from the offensive the year before. One little girl pointing at the hole said ‘We were in the school when that happened,'" Campbell said.

They delivered Beanie Babies to the children, which were a big hit; they gave the school supplies to local nongovernmental organizations to distribute.

"We checked them out to make sure they weren't Hamas-affiliated."

Since her return to school, Campbell has begun a busy public speaking schedule, including talking to students in classes at OSU and Linn-Benton Community College. She's also had trouble adjusting to everyday American life after witnessing the poverty and deprivation in Gaza.

"It's been really hard to do, going to class, getting in the groove and caring about my petty homework."

Growing up, Campbell remembers her parents saying "Eat all your dinner. There are starving children in Africa. ... I was always aware I'm more fortunate." Her trip to Gaza offered firsthand proof of that, she said.

In Gaza, she gave two laptops to local student activists. "They were so happy they wept. These were $300 laptops."

She expected some possible backlash for her trip.

"I did it, and I don't regret it," Campbell said. "I don't think you can call anyone handing out Beanie Babies at a school a terrorist."

And she plans to return to the region and its people.

"They wanted us to tell their stories. The media doesn't cover what's happening. They didn't want any kind of revenge. They just want to take care of their families and rebuild. Everyone just wanted peace."

Copyright 2015 Corvallis Gazette Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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