Israelis stand on a hill at the Israeli town of Sderot, overlooking the Gaza Strip, as they watch smoke rising following an Israeli strike on Gaza, Saturday, July 12, 2014.

(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Two college students in Colorado are back home after witnessing the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians firsthand. 

Devin Hogan from the University of Denver and Kate Simmons, a Colorado native studying at Colorado State University, were in the midst of a month-long journalism program when war broke out in early July. The two sides are now in a temporary cease fire.

Hogan and Simmons arrived in Israel at the end of June, and, within a week, were covering a major conflict.

Israelis found the bodies of three teenagers who had been killed. Then a Palestinian teen was killed, presumably in retaliation. Those two events set off intense fighting. At least 1,650 Gazans, 63 Israeli soldiers and 3 Israeli civilians have died since, according to tallies complied by NPR -- although reporters have had a hard time determining death tolls.

Hogan and Simmons traveled around Israel and the West Bank, talking with local residents about their experiences. Simmons says the experience taught her how violence comes about.

"It was like a fire -- starting as embers and then struck a big flame and grew," she says. "I witnessed that, and it helped me understand conflict."

Among other places, Hogan and Simmons traveled to Sderot in Western Israel close to Gaza. The city’s been called the "bomb shelter capital of the world." Hogan says the prevalence of bomb shelters was striking.

A bomb shelter on a playground in Sderot, Israel.

(Photo: Courtesy of Kate Simmons)

"[Sderot] is bombed so heavily that every bus station is a bomb shelter. It’s pretty intense. Even at playgrounds there are bomb shelters. They have a caterpillar that the kids can play on but it’s also a bomb shelter," Hogan says.
The hardest thing for Simmons to understand, she says, are people's attitudes towards the conflict.
"I work for the newspaper at CSU and we covered Arapahoe when the shooting happened," she says, remembering the death of student Claire Davis. "The whole state was devastated," Simmons says. "In Israel, children were dying but only half of the people were sad or mourning. I’m still trying to cope with the fact that children are dying and not everyone is sad."
While this was her first on the ground experience with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Simmons says she has friends on both sides of it because of a camp called Building Bridges, based in Denver. Building Bridges brings youth from Israel and Palestine together to foster understanding on both sides. 
Simmons has talked to a few friends from Building Bridges about her experience this summer. The most common reaction, she says, is a polite version of "I told you so."
"They are like, 'Oh, the American finally gets it,'" Simmons says.