LOD, Israel — The hulks of burned out cars and trucks litter the streets of the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, the epicenter of three nights of violence inside Israeli cities that have fed fears the country could be careening toward a civil war.
When the violence spread on Monday from the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to Gaza, an uneasy coexistence in Lod, deep inside central Israel, abruptly ruptured.
The authorities have declared a state of emergency in the town of about 80,000 people and imposed a night curfew from Wednesday. Armed border police, brought in from the occupied West Bank, were deployed.
But the curfew did little to calm the atmosphere, and both Jews and Arabs described a terrifying night on Wednesday. Arab residents, who account for about 30 percent of the town’s population, protested while Jewish extremists came from outside Lod and burned Arab cars and property.
On Thursday morning, a Jewish man was stabbed as he walked to synagogue, but he survived.
Shirin al-Hinawi, a 33-year-old Arab resident of Lod who works for the Israeli food company Osem, said her house was charred when rioters threw a Molotov cocktail into her yard on Wednesday night. She lamented that the police did not come to protect her family.
“We ran out of the house without clothes on. It was burning,” she said. “We are not living in Gaza. I’m an Israeli citizen and we didn’t do anything,” she said with tears in her eyes.
The latest eruption of Israeli-Arab warfare bears many of the hallmarks of past conflicts: round after round of Israeli airstrikes on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and salvos of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel. But this time a distinctly different type of violence has spilled over into Israeli cities, some of them with mixed Jewish and Arab populations living closely intertwined lives.
It was this unusual outburst of street clashes inside Israel that prompted the president to warn of a civil war and the prime minister to call for an end to “lynchings” by Arab and Jewish mobs that have run amok.
Ramat Eshkol, a hardscrabble neighborhood near the old city of Lod, has been one of the hottest flash points of violence in Lod. A community of young Orthodox Jews moved there in recent years with Arab neighbors in shared apartment buildings. Israeli flags flying out the windows mark some of the Jewish apartments.
Arab youths in Lod, inflamed by the clashes at the Aqsa compound in Jerusalem and by a long history of discrimination and generations-old fear of displacement, began protesting on Monday night outside a mosque in the old quarter and were dispersed by police who used stun grenades and tear gas, residents said.
That ignited a broader flare-up that then spread to other mixed Jewish-Arab towns and cities in Israel.
By the end of the night on Monday, an Arab man was fatally shot when dozens of stone-throwing protesters approached a building with Jewish residents. Since then, at least four synagogues have been burned as well a religious school and a military training academy.
Yousef Ezz, 33-year-old Arab truck driver from Lod, said his truck was burned on Wednesday night.
“People have lost all their faith. This is their last stop,” he said. “I will live and die here and my children will live or die here.”
Tahael Harris, a 27-year-old a Jewish woman who lives in a shabby building with a mix of Arab and Jewish citizens opposite the school that was burned, said that for the last three nights, she and her husband and two children have been holed up at home behind locked doors while mobs of Arabs were setting cars on fire and throwing stones.
On Wednesday night, the violence ramped up and the family heard live gunfire.
“There is a feeling it’s only getting worse,” she said. “Before, it was quiet, not perfect, but we were good neighbors. I don’t know where they were last night. I don’t want to ask because I’m scared to hear the answer,” she said, fearing her own neighbors were among the attackers.
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