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A&M Instructor Remembers Her Time in Haifa

Texas A&M Assistant Professor Heidi Campbell has made five trips to Israel since 2003, including one this summer. Her studies on how religion affects the use of technology took her to the University of Haifa, now a flash point in the world's biggest conflict.

For Campbell, who teaches in A&M's department of communication, her only pictures of her time in Israel are of peaceful surroundings, though she was all too aware of the violent aura of the nation.

"You just get used to that," she said of the citizens there. "You learn to deal with the culture of the tension there. You just absorb it while you're there."

During a brief visit to Sweden, the now infamous kidnappings that preceded this violence happened. Less than 24 hours after her return to Haifa, it was sparked even further.

"Friends kept kidding me at the airport, 'you always pick the best times to go to Israel,'" she said.

"I was just making dinner and listening to the news when an announcement came on over the loud speaker in Hebrew about getting to a safe room," Campbell continued. "My Hebrew's not that great, so I wasn't sure what was going on.

"Finally, I got a hold of a friend in Jerusalem. I asked what do you do if there's a bombing happening and I'm hearing about something happening on the Internet. He said, 'don't worry about it, it'll be fine."

After a few hours in a safe room, Campbell came out and went to her room.

"I just went to bed, finding out later that one rocket had hit three to four miles down the road," she said.

The scenes now in Haifa are anything but what anyone expected. On the advice of her friends, Campbell went two-and-a-half hours up the road to Jerusalem, leaving all her research, as well as reassuring friends and colleagues.

"'It'll be fine," she said they told her "'They won't really target Haifa because that would start a really big conflict or war.'

"I took my computer, a couple of credit cards and three changes of clothes thinking I'll be back on Sunday afternoon, and never was able to get back."

After leaving her research in Haifa for Jerusalem with the first signs of war, Campbell's calls back to friends weren't reassuring.

"She's like, 'Heidi, I can't talk. I'm running to a safe room,'" said one friend to Campbell. "'Don't come back to Haifa. They're bombing. Twenty bombs have fallen' Then, she cut out."

Campbell heeded the warnings. But before returning to Texas A&M, the department of communications professor was able to watch both Israeli and Arab media coverage.

"Israeli television was focusing on what was happening on a local issue," she said. "So they're more focused on the bombings happening in certain areas. Al-Jazeera, obviously, was more focused on the Muslim and Arab communities."

But many times, Campbell says the two outlets with differing coverage would use the same footage. They'd also use the same sound bytes from people like President Bush, including his statement that Israel had a right to defend itself.

"Israel was basically using that in a news story to kind of justify that it's OK what we're doing," Campbell said. "Al-Jazeera was using it as a way to say, the west is interfering in our culture."

And unlike many American journalists who are clad in bulletproof gear, Campbell said regional journalists didn't take as many precautionary steps.

"It's just like it's the nightly news," she said. "This isn't something new and breaking, whereas [for western media] there's a more sensational, 'wow' element about it. It's tension in the Middle East."

But that tension between the Jewish nation and the Muslim world has appeared again, though Campbell believes it's not necessarily the religion that divides them.

"Religion ties into their cultural identity, and so that plays a role, but I see it as more inequities in society and injustice boiling up," she said.

Campbell is still in regular contact with friends and colleagues in Haifa, who tell her the city is a ghost town compared to just weeks ago.


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