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Wednesday, 6 March, 2002, 18:58 GMT
Israeli unease as casualties mount
A mourner at the burial of Sofia Eliau and Jacob Avraham Eliau, killed in suicide attack
The cycle of violence is spawning despair
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By Caroline Hawley
BBC correspondent in Jerusalem
line

It is being described as Israel's "worst week" since the current Palestinian intifada, or uprising, began.

As the casualties mount, the first serious calls are now being made on the government of Ariel Sharon to resign.

"The house is on fire, and in Jerusalem sit a bunch of politicians known as the government," writes a scathing commentator in the daily Yediot Ahronot.

Ariel Sharon examines a military map
There are calls for the Sharon government to resign
"It's the most failing government the country has known and at that, at one of the hardest times the country has known."

The daily Maariv also condemns the government for failing to make Israelis secure:

"A government that does not fulfil this elementary obligation loses its moral right to govern, has no right to exist, and its fate is clear - it must go home."

The columnists' criticism is echoed on the streets of Jerusalem, where many people now want to see Israel adopt an even tougher approach against the Palestinians.

Fear on the streets

"I think we're not reacting strongly enough. We have to start a war," said one Jerusalem man.

Israeli soldier
Many Israelis think the country should fight back harder
"But I'm not afraid. The people of Israel have faith. Everything comes from God." Another man said: "I'd like the Israeli government to go in there and break their heads." "I lost 5 friends," says Shlomit Levy who was lightly injured in last Saturday's suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

"People are being killed every day. None of my friends go shopping in the mall now because they're afraid, and the government is doing nothing."

But while most Israelis lean strongly to the right, public opinion is beginning to polarise.

Left revived

The left, which has been virtually silent since the uprising began, is now being galvanised into action - increasingly disturbed by how the Israeli army is operating in the West Bank and Gaza.

Left wing demonstration
The week's violence has galvanised the Israeli left
Since the uprising began, hundreds of Israeli men have refused to serve in the occupied territories, including more than 300 reserve soldiers who have signed a petition saying they will not take part in "missions of oppression".

Their petition says they "sensed how the commands issued to us in the Territories destroy all the values we had absorbed while growing up in this country".

"I believe this is the time for people to go out on the streets," says Manuela Dviri, one of the founders of a group called Four Mothers, which campaigned for a pull-out from Lebanon.

"People call me all the time saying 'Do something!' They're waking up," she said.

But Dviri, who lost a son in Lebanon, also acknowledges that most Israelis have no prescription for how to end the violence.

"People are desperate," she says. "They're frightened and they don't know what to think."

Soaring stress levels

A news-obsessed nation is now turning off the television during news programmes.

"People feel despair and they feel numb," said one Jerusalem resident.

Palestinian-Israeli clashes
Increased violence is pushing up stress levels
As the conflict escalates, growing numbers of Israelis are applying for private gun licenses, with more and more seeking treatment for stress.

But it is not just Israeli people who are suffering.

It seems their pets are being traumatised too. An article in Yediot Aharonot newspaper headlined "Pet Panic" quotes a Jerusalem vet who has begun treating cats and dogs with valium.

The vet told the BBC his own dog refuses to go outside. "Animals hear helicopters as well," says Benny Sapir who lives in southern Jerusalem where residents can hear Israeli bombs dropped on Bethlehem as well as exchanges of fire between the nearby town of Beit Jala and the Jewish settlement of Gilo.

"People are so stressed and they don't know what to do or who to blame," he says. "People are nervous and so are their pets."

See also:

06 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israeli troops storm into Gaza
06 Mar 02 | Middle East
Bush pledges Mid-East peace moves
05 Mar 02 | Middle East
Head to head: Mid-East violence surges
04 Mar 02 | Media reports
Israeli cabinet clash over Arafat
03 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel on the defensive
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