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The BBC's Robin Lustig
talks to Israeli Jews in Jerusalem
 real 28k

The BBC's Robin Lustig
talks to Israeli Arabs in Nazareth
 real 28k

Thursday, 12 October, 2000, 19:23 GMT 20:23 UK
Analysis: Israel's gravest crisis
Funeral of Hillel Lieberman at the Jewish settlement of Yitzhar
There have been too many funerals - on both sides
By the BBC's Robin Lustig, who has spent the past week talking to Israelis and Palestinians for Radio 4's World Tonight programme

The people of Israel - Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis alike - are facing one of the gravest crises in their history.

An ultra-orthodox Jew holds a baby - and a gun
An ultra-orthodox Jew holds a baby - and a gun
The violence of the past two weeks in Israel itself, together with daily clashes on the West Bank and in Gaza, has brought them to the brink of war.

Israel has faced many crises in its history. It was born out of war in 1948 and it has been threatened many times.

But this crisis is different: no army is massing on its borders - this time, the enemy is within.

Arab and Jew, often neighbours, rarely friends, now live in fear.

Pessimism

I have never encountered such universal pessimism as there is now in Israel.

The funeral of Sami Abu-Jazer, a 9-year-old boy killed by Israelis
Anger at the funeral of Sami Abu-Jazer, a 9-year-old boy killed by Israelis
Usually at times of crisis, people say to you: "Yes, we are going through a bad period, but it will pass."

This time, they say: "It is very bad now, and we fear it will get worse."

Every time there is a killing, there is a funeral. And at every funeral, emotions run high and anger flares.

Israeli troops - Jewish Israelis - have killed at least 14 Israeli citizens - Arab Israelis - over the past two weeks.

Israeli troops take cover at a shootout in Nablus, West Bank
Israeli troops take cover at a shootout in Nablus, West Bank
The anger is everywhere.

In Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus Christ, now the biggest Arab town in Israel, hundreds of Jewish youths went on the rampage and attacked Arab targets.

Two Arabs died, while the police - according to Arab accounts - ignored the violence coming from Jewish "vigilantes".

The 'beast' within

Over the past few days, I have spoken to dozens of ordinary Israelis, Jews and Arabs, and to senior officials on both sides.

Armed Jews at the settlement of Yitzhar
Armed Jews at the settlement of Yitzhar
All of them agree that this crisis is more serious and more dangerous than any that has gone before.

Faisal Husseini, the senior Palestinian official in Jerusalem, told me it may soon be time to demand an international military force to protect Palestinians from Israeli forces.

Yossi Beilin, the Israeli justice minister and architect of the Oslo peace accords of 1993, spoke despairingly of the 'beast' which lurks inside both Israelis and Palestinians and which must now urgently be brought back under control.

Most worryingly of all, perhaps, is what seems to be a total loss of confidence on both sides in the idea that problems can be solved by negotiation.

Jewish Israelis say they have no faith in the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat - the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak says much the same.

Crowd of Palestinians
Vengeance is in the air
Palestinians, meanwhile, say there is no point in negotiating while Israeli soldiers are using live ammunition and helicopter gunships to deal with protesters.

Neither Mr Barak nor Mr Arafat seems to be in control of events.

The streets are in charge. Vengeance is in the air and the violence looks set to continue.

I have never felt so fearful for the future of this blood-soaked region.

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