After days of people peering skyward for danger, whether rockets barreling in toward cities or jets streaking out over the border into Gaza, the most ominous battle is unfolding on a different front: the streets and sidewalks of Israeli cities.
Alongside now-familiar scenes of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza and Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israel, the worst violence in decades has erupted inside Israel. Jewish and Arab citizens are clashing violently in chaotic scenes — stoning cars, burning offices and places of worship, and forming mobs that have dragged people from their vehicles and beat them to within an inch of their lives.
That is all giving way to fears that the country is careening toward a civil war.
“We need to solve our problems without causing a civil war that can be a danger to our existence, more than all the dangers we have from the outside,” said Reuven Rivlin, Israel’s president. “The silent majority is not saying a thing, because it is utterly stunned.”
Gaza militants and Israeli forces have been trading fire for days now, ever since a police raid at a Jerusalem mosque that was built atop a site revered by both Muslims and Jews.
However deadly the rockets and missiles may be — and they have killed scores — their victims cannot see who attacked them. The same cannot not be said of what is now playing out on the streets of Israel, and that, too, is unusual.
“What is happening in Israel’s cities over the past few days is unacceptable,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This is something that we cannot accept — it is anarchy.”
“Nothing justifies this, and I will tell you that nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews,” he added.
The latest conflict, which erupted on Monday, is diverging from past patterns in many other ways as well.
Israelis across the political spectrum typically unite in the face of such hostilities. But after four inconclusive elections in two years left the country deeply fractured, Mr. Netanyahu’s political rivals are blaming him for the outburst of violence.
It is also the first intense round of fighting since Israel normalized relations with several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, a long-fought prize and a delicate balancing act that violence could easily upset.
And it is the first eruption during the Biden administration, which has sent signals that it is willing to engage quickly to try to de-escalate the tensions. The new U.S. administration had hoped to focus its foreign policy efforts on other parts of the world, such as China and Iran, and on restoring the multilateral focus that was spurned by President Trump. But the Middle East has demanded attention again.
Since a police raid at the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Monday, which the Israeli authorities said was done to rout stone-throwing protesters, 83 Palestinians and at least six Israeli citizens have died. In response to rockets launched by Hamas militants and their allies from Gaza, Israel conducted airstrikes.
The Aqsa raid might have been the spark, but the fuel was years of anger from Israel’s Arab minority, which make up about 20 percent of the population. They have full citizenship, but rights advocates say they are victims of dozens of discriminatory regulations.
“The way that we are treated is as though we shouldn’t be here,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian political analyst from Haifa, a city in northern Israel, and a former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Rocket fire and missile strikes continued on Wednesday, but the Israeli government’s attention seemed to turn increasingly inward, prompted by a series of violent episodes.
In one seaside suburb south of Tel Aviv, dozens of Jewish extremists took turns beating and kicking a man presumed to be Arab, even as he lay motionless on the ground. To the north, in another coastal town, an Arab mob beat a man they thought was Jewish with sticks and rocks, leaving him in a critical condition. Nearby, an Arab mob nearly stabbed to death a man believed to be Jewish.
One mixed Jewish-Arab city, Lod, was declared “locked down.”
GAZA CITY — On Tuesday evening, Gazans celebrated as they heard the whoosh of rockets sent toward Israel.
But by Wednesday morning the cheers had stopped, as Gazans saw the aftermath of what some described as the most intense airstrikes since cross-border Israeli-Palestinian hostilities flared again this week.
In one neighborhood, near Zeitoun and Sabra, residents inspected their homes and neighborhoods for damage, and desperately sought information about where the missiles might strike next.
“I felt that the hits were random,” said Nadal Issa, 27, the owner of a bridal shop.
Hamas and other militants have been exchanging fire with Israel since Monday. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 16 children as of Wednesday night, officials said. In Israel, at least six civilians have been killed, including one child.
In Gaza, some said they had never felt anything as harrowing as the surge of Israeli strikes that came Wednesday morning.
Some said it felt as if blast waves were hitting their face and body, as if their block were under attack. Disoriented, they staggered to windows to look outside.
“My two children woke up, and they asked me, ‘What’s going on?’” Mr. Issa said. Thinking quickly, he reminded them that the holiday marking the end of Ramadan was near. “I told them these are celebrations for Eid.”
Mohammed Sabtie, a 30-year-old motorcycle mechanic, was among the Gazans who left their homes after the airstrikes subsided on Wednesday morning to see the damage.
“The sound was very, very horrific,” Mr. Sabtie said. “It was like a state of war. It was the first time I ever heard anything like this.”
Was he scared? Yes, he said, but also glad to see Palestinians fighting back.
“Our ambitions are not war,” Mr. Sabtie said. “Our ambitions are security and peace. We have to do this. We don’t want to be hit and insulted. We want to hit back.”
The United States Embassy in Jerusalem has warned its staff members and their families to stay close to home or near bomb shelters because of the heightened threat of rocket attacks from Palestinian militants in Gaza, barely 40 miles away.
The warning, issued on Wednesday and posted on the embassy’s website, came as the crisis engulfing Israel and the Palestinian territories escalated to the most violent in years.
“Rockets continue to impact the Gaza periphery and areas across Southern and Central Israel,” read the alert. It advised diplomats and their relatives to remain in safe surroundings at least until May 17.
The embassy itself is contentious, having been moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv by President Donald J. Trump three years ago over the strenuous objections of the Palestinians, who saw the change as an endorsement of Israel’s claim to the entire city as its capital. Israel captured the eastern part of the city in the 1967 war, and its occupation is not internationally recognized.
The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as their capital under a long-proposed two-state solution to the conflict. Most foreign embassies in Israel remain in Tel Aviv, partly because of Jerusalem’s disputed status.
While the Biden administration has pledged a more evenhanded approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than that of its predecessor, which heavily favored the Israeli side, there is no expectation the embassy will be moved back to Tel Aviv.
The embassy was part of a jarring juxtaposition when it held a celebratory opening on May 14, 2018. While Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and other American officials were toasting the relocation, Israeli soldiers and snipers were using tear gas and live gunfire to drive back hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators on the Gaza side of the border.
Instagram removed some posts and restricted access to other content that used hashtags related to the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem after mistakenly associating the name with a terrorist organization, according to an internal company message.
The error, acknowledged by Facebook, which owns Instagram, added a new irritant to the crisis roiling Jerusalem and spreading elsewhere in Israel and the occupied territories. The crisis began over an Israeli police crackdown around the mosque, which is built atop a site holy to Muslims and Jews.
Facebook said in the message that while “Al-Aqsa” often refers to the mosque, “it is also unfortunately included in the names of several restricted organizations.” Although the company did not identify those groups, the State Department has designated the Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as a foreign terrorist organization, and several other groups with “Al-Aqsa” in their names have had sanctions imposed on them by the United States.
As a result, the company said, some content related to the Aqsa Mosque was mistakenly removed or restricted.
“I want to apologize for the frustration these mistakes have caused,” a Facebook employee who works on the issue of “dangerous organizations” wrote to employees in an internal message that Facebook shared with The New York Times. “I want to reaffirm that these removals are strictly enforcement errors. We understand the vital importance of the Al-Aqsa mosque to Palestinians and the Muslim community around the world.”
The restrictions, previously reported by BuzzFeed News, had fueled criticism that Instagram and other social media platforms were censoring Palestinian voices after a raid by the Israeli police on the mosque left hundreds of Palestinians and a score of police officers wounded.
Facebook’s internal message said the company was making changes to ensure that the term “Al-Aqsa” by itself does not prompt restrictions or removals.
“These mistakes are painful, erode the trust of our community and there is no easy fix for that,” the Facebook employee wrote. “While I cannot promise that future errors will not occur — I can promise that we are working earnestly to ensure that we are not censoring salient political and social voices in Jerusalem and around the world.”
Twitter, which had also been accused of unfairly blocking Palestinian content, said in a statement that it used a combination of technology and people to enforce its rules.
“In certain cases, our automated systems took enforcement action on a small number of accounts in error through an automated spam filter,” Twitter said in a statement. “We expeditiously reversed these actions to reinstate access to the affected accounts.”
JERUSALEM — When it’s guns doing the talking, Israel’s usual political clamor typically shushes up.
This time? It’s different.
Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the opposition, said the conflict “can be no excuse for keeping Netanyahu and his government in place,” He added, “They are exactly the reason why he should be replaced as soon as possible.”
The crisis, in which dozens have been killed, has occurred at a key moment in Israeli politics.
After Mr. Netanyahu failed to form a government following the fourth elections in two years, Mr. Lapid was given his chance. Yet the bloodshed makes Mr. Lapid’s efforts to forge a coalition government both simpler and more difficult.
On one hand, Mr. Netanyahu’s detractors have even more incentive to oust him. But the violence has highlighted the profound differences between the parties of the anti-Netanyahu camp, which span the political spectrum from left to right.
“If the opposing ideologies meant they had one hand tied behind their back,” said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, “now they have both hands tied behind their back.”
President Biden said that he had spoken with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel “for a while” on Wednesday amid escalating fighting between Israelis and Palestinians, and asserted his “unwavering support” for Israel’s “right to defend itself.”
“My hope is that we will see this coming to a conclusion sooner than later,” Mr. Biden said in response to questions from reporters.
According to a readout of the call released by the White House, Mr. Biden “condemned” the rocket attacks on Israel and added that the United States’ position is that Jerusalem be “a place of peace.”
Mr. Biden also said that his administration’s national security and defense officials had been and would stay “in constant contact” with their counterparts in the Middle East.
The White House added that during the phone call Mr. Biden had updated Mr. Netanyahu on the United States’ diplomatic engagement with Palestinian officials and other nations in the Middle East.
The call between the two leaders came on the same day that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke over the phone with Mr. Netanyahu.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III on Wednesday offered “ironclad support” for Israel’s self-defense in a phone conversation with Benny Gantz, Israel’s defense minister.