Justin Myers stepped out of Penn Station in Baltimore on Wednesday evening to find two groups of protesters chanting, waving flags and blocking traffic.
Hundreds of pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protesters were out to support their respective sides in a decades-long contest that has grown increasingly violent in recent months.
As he waited for a cab to take him to visit his parents, Myers, 36, of Washington, D.C., looked out on the scene. "With the news, I guess I'm not completely surprised," he said.
Over the course of the 23-day conflict, 1,346 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died. On the Israeli side, 56 soldiers and three civilians had been killed. On Wednesday, Israeli shelling killed at least 15 Palestinians in a school and another 17 near a street market, Palestinian officials said. Also Wednesday, three Israeli soldiers died when uncovering a booby-trapped tunnel inside a residence in Gaza.
For Gil Rifkin, the fighting hits home. The Pikesville man said his sister, Channah, was nearly killed in a recent 2:30 a.m. bombing in Tel Aviv, where she works as an intern journalist at Ynet, an Israeli news website.
"She woke up to sirens," he said. She slipped and fell on her way to a bomb shelter, he said, and she would have died if the bombs hadn't been intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome missile defense system.
Theresa Reuter of Ramblewood said the Israelis are good people, but she empathizes with the Palestinian cause. "What would it be like if bombs were falling on the White House?" she said. "We have to imagine the other, because the other is us.
"I hope more people will be educated on what's truly going on in Gaza and what the Israeli army is truly doing," she said.
Leora Cohen Schiff, 26, of Station North said Israel is simply defending itself. She and her friends heard about the gathering through word of mouth in the Jewish community about an hour before it began.
"The pro-Israel community knows how to mobilize," she said, surrounded by people waving blue-and-white Israeli flags. The Palestinian contingent was smaller but just as vocal.
Schiff's friends, Esti Sonnenblick and Shayna Whiteman, both of Pikesville, said the group represented the Jewish state's passionate supporters.
Mark Hart, 54, of Upper Park Heights said he visited Israel in August 2004 and hopes to move there. "I want to live in a peaceful, Jewish homeland," he said. "I care about our people."
Marilyn Carlisle, who also lives in Ramblewood, has been watching the conflict in the Middle East for a decade. She supports the Palestinians, and as a U.S. citizen, she said, she is tired of watching American money and weapons going to an Israeli army when "they don't have any interest in peace."
"Four or five years ago, I thought there would be a two-state solution," the Ramblewood woman said. "We've been watching for years. It doesn't get any better."
Mohammed Bendebba, 63, feels that the narrative has swayed so far in Israel's favor that any dissent, even in the U.S., is immediately painted as racism and anti-Semitism.
"Americans do not have the right to say anything negative about Israel," he said.
As she watched the two groups march away from one another, Lt. Col. Melissa Hyatt radioed orders to her Baltimore police officers to ensure they kept the peace.
"Our main objective is to make sure everyone can exercise their rights safely," the downtown area commander said. "That's the extent of it."
Reuters contributed to this article.
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