At first glance, Sharon Davara, a student at the Hebrew University, seems calm and collected as she sits with friends at the counter of Elisha's Espresso Bar in the heart of Jewish West Jerusalem.
It is Sunday morning, an hour after the latest bombing by Palestinian militants - this one just around the corner, near the office where she works part-time - and the third in 48 hours. It is only after Ms. Davara is asked about the apparent escalation in bomb attacks that her inner struggle appears.
"The feeling of fear controls my mind. It affects everything," says Davara, of the eight-month-old intifada, or uprising. "Before I brush my teeth, I open the newspaper to make sure nothing has been bombed.... You sit on the bus and look around to see if there are Arabs or someone with a big bag. You don't want to go out."
Psychologists here say the fears of Davara and Israel's 6 million other citizens are out of proportion to real danger they face. Out of the 88 Israelis who have been killed on the Israeli side during the intifada, most were on the front lines - either in the army or living in Jewish settlements. At least 478 Palestinians have been killed.
To the militant Arab groups launching the attacks, it's what terrorism is intended to do: sow insecurity among Israeli citizens and political leaders. A survey last week in the Ma'ariv newspaper showed that for the first time Israelis, by a margin of 48 to 45 percent, favor a US-imposed cease-fire in the conflict with the Palestinians. This, despite a sharp swing to right-wing parties among those surveyed.
"The message is 'come save us, the main thing is to get us out of this trouble,' " wrote Chemi Shalev, the paper's diplomatic correspondent. "The public is ready to clutch any straw that might get it out of its distress."
For Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the attacks "are part of a long-term struggle they hope will end up by defeating Israel and establishing an Islamic state," says Ghassan Khatib, head of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.
Attacks in the occupied territories by Fatah, a Palestinian political movement with an armed wing, are "aimed at giving Israelis the impression that if there is no peace then there will be a price to pay," says Mr. Khatib.
Palestinian fears appear even more widespread. "I think everyone in the Gaza Strip is traumatized one way or another," psychiatrist Iyad Sarraj recently told Reuters. "A state of tension and apprehension doesn't pass anyone by."
Anxieties for Israelis and Palestinians play out in many ways, psychologists say, beginning at home. Tensions are exacerbating among couples, who lose their sense of security and belief they can work out differences.
"People's paths in life aren't as clear as they used to be. They are all braced inside - waiting for the next attack," says Janet Baumgold-Land, a therapist at the Counseling Center for Women in Jerusalem.
"They stay where they are, they are not looking forward to moving onto something new. The idea is to stop here and dig in, rather than feel that the world is open," she says.
Chanoch Yerushalmi, director of student counseling at the Hebrew University, says his patients are having dreams about bombings and terrorist acts.
Cheli Mualem, who works with Davara as a telephone operator, says that every day she wonders which is the best bus line to take so that "you don't come home without your arms and legs." This kind of response is not simply a reaction to the actual danger of bombs, psychologists say. Rather, it comes from an accumulation of previous traumas or as a result of the tremendous emphasis placed by the government and media on bombings by Palestinians.
Perceptions shaped by media
"We are in a tunnel without light," says Cheli's sister, Michal, who, like many Israelis, immediately phones friends and relatives to check on them after explosions.
In the view of Ms. Baumgold-Land, the government and media highlight the bombings to convey the message that Israelis are "the good guys" while the Palestinians are "terrorists."
"They'll show footage of terrorist attacks over and over, but they won't show Palestinian [victims of the Israeli army]. The feeling is that we're the victims, it's only happening to us. We tend to demonize the other so that it becomes a whole group that is out to get us. It's way beyond a specific act."
Meanwhile, there were further escalations yesterday in the West Bank. Two Israeli settlers were killed in separate shootings by Palestinians, and one Palestinian was reported shot dead by Israeli troops.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor