A nightmare returned on a cool Jerusalem evening

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The Independent Online

Naomi Ragen, a bestselling Israeli-American author, had spent all day working on her next novel, the story of a fictional terrorist attack. Her husband suggested they make the most of a cool Jerusalem night and go out for dinner.

After three years of intifada violence, which had turned the city centre into a social and commercial desert, they decided "to enjoy the freedom to visit our own town again". The feeling, shared by many others, was that the war was coming to an end.

"We found a lovely French restaurant in the centre of town," she said. "We got there at eight o'clock and we finished eating at 10 after nine. We decided to take a walk.

"I hadn't seen Jerusalem packed with so many people for such a long time. It was like a rebirth. The city was coming back to itself. It was heartwarming."

Suddenly, boys were running down the street, people getting into their cars, listening to the radio and talking animatedly on their mobile phones. Slowly, the word went around -pigooah, Hebrew slang for terrorist attack.

"It was almost surreal," Ms Ragen recalled. "No one had heard the bomb go off. People were still sitting out, drinking coffee, smiling, talking to each other, while blocks away there were children bleeding to death on the sidewalk."

Raed Mesak, a 29-year-old mosque preacher from Hebron and a father of two, had blown himself up on a bus ferrying dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jews home from evening prayers at the Western Wall.

Jerusalem crashed back to earth. The nightmare had returned - for Israelis and for Palestinians, who, for all their grievances, had started to savour the ceasefire and hope for better days. "Hell returned to the streets of the capital," Uri Yablonska reported in the tabloid daily Ma'ariv.

If anyone needed confirmation that the bad old tit-for-tat days were back, yesterday's Israeli assassination of Ismail Abu Shanab, a senior Hamas leader, provided it.

Ms Ragen was angry with Ariel Sharon's government for falling into the trap of a "fake peace". So, I asked, would she still go out on the town? Would she go back to the lovely French restaurant?

"We're going to be stuck in our houses again and we're not going to be out in the streets. Maybe that will happen for a week or two. But in the end people will be going to restaurants, people will be going out in the streets.

"Eventually, we'll have to understand that this is a state of war, and that we're going to have to get used to living with it. We're going to make our forays into normalcy as often as we can, depending on our personal courage, despite the constant threat that a terrorist can take us and our children any moment."

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