ISRAELIS and Palestinians alike are afraid something dangerous is happening to Jerusalem. Three Israelis are stabbed to death, shattering the early morning calm in a prosperous, quiet south Jerusalem neighborhood. Later, crowds of angry Israelis gather by the main road, pelting Palestinian cars with stones and shouting ``Death to the Arabs!''
At night, in the same quarter, about 30 Israeli cars have their tires slashed. The police suggest that this might be the work of Jewish provocateurs. The government closes the city off to Palestinians from the occupied West Bank. Arabs going to work in Israel are closely monitored.
On subsequent days, there are other knife attacks, against soldiers in the occupied Gaza Strip and civilians in Jerusalem. Yesterday two young Israeli women were stabbed in northern Israel.
A drive around Jerusalem reveals communities going about their business and a semblance of normality. The police presence, though massively increased, has yet to create the impression of a city under siege.
But since the Oct. 8 killings of at least 20 Palestinians by Israeli security forces at the Temple Mount, violence has clearly spiraled.
``The city is now in turmoil,'' left-wing Knesset member Dedi Zucker told Israel Radio. ``We have climbed up in the last couple of months to a new stage of brutalization of the struggle. Life is worth almost nothing. These are the days of the mob.''
Mr. Zucker predicted further bloodshed, a concern echoed by Ibrahim Dakak, an East Jerusalem academic.
``Jerusalem, the city of peace, may become Jerusalem, the city of blood,'' he says. ``Extremism is spreading very quickly among the Palestinians.''
Mr. Dakak says the Israeli government, which he accuses of protecting and encouraging Jewish extremism, is largely to blame for the present trend.
``Either coexistence will satisfy the needs of both parties,'' he says, ``or the situation will deteriorate to the point where living in Jerusalem for both parties will not be easy.''
For Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem's mayor, recent events threaten to bury his quarter-century dream of coexistence.
``This morning's murders ... are a terrible blow and a hard test for people's patience and tolerance,'' Mr. Kollek said after the attack in West Jerusalem. Kollek admitted that changes might have to be made to security procedures in the city, ``as long as they are both lawful and preserve the principle of an open city.''
In reality, such a city has not existed for three years. The intifadah (the Palestinian uprising) has completely polarized the two parts of Jerusalem, to the point where Jewish and Arab life barely overlap.
In the old city, where the sheer proximity of the holy places forces Jew and Arab to rub shoulders, actual human contact - except of the violent kind - is virtually nonexistent.
``The legend about a peaceful and united Jerusalem has been cracked,'' wrote Emanuel Rosen in the newspaper Ma'ariv. ``The crack must be prevented from becoming a mutual bloodbath.''
There is every sign that the polarization will continue. Following Sunday's killings, the government heard calls for a variety of Draconian measures, including restrictions on the movement of Arabs in the city.
Ronni Milo, the police minister, announced that clearer open-fire regulations will be introduced for members of the security forces. The third Israeli to die in Sunday's knife attack was Shalom Chelouche, an off-duty policeman who, according to eyewitnesses, shot in the air and at the assailant's legs in an effort to apprehend him.
``From now on, open-fire regulations will be clear,'' Mr. Milo told angry mourners Monday at Chelouche's funeral, ``and the police will not have to worry about shooting murderers.''
Palestinians say regulations already give the security forces sufficient license to open fire, and point to the killings outside the Al-Aqsa mosque as evidence.
``It makes Palestinians very vulnerable,'' says Dakak. ``How can a policeman be sure he's in danger?''
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens says the United Nations was partly to blame for the killings: ``The Security Council condemnation of events on the Temple Mount encouraged residents of the territories to carry out acts of terrorism against Jews.''
The government views Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem as nonnegotiable. But Hillel Bardin, a peace activist, argues that only by offering territorial compromise will the government defuse tension. Mr. Bardin concedes such a gesture is unlikely from the present government, but warns of consequences.
``The Palestinians are quite desperate,'' he says. ``Desperate people don't make good neighbors.''