Jerusalem Municipality's chief engineer Shlomo Eshkol slams building a new neighborhood [on Lifta village] for not following the guidelines of the city's urban renewal plan
By MICHELLE MALKA GROSSMAN
Jerusalem officials and members of the public met Tuesday to air their grievances over a plan to build a new neighborhood on the green hillside of Mitzpe Neftoah (Lifta). Perched high at the city’s western entrance, it is one of the few untouched nature spots in the city and home to hundreds of wild plant species and animals, such as foxes and gazelles.
In November, the National Planning and Building Committee approved the National Board for Prioritized Residential Projects (VATMAL)’s Plan 1012. It aims to build 1,400 housing units on the 4.1 hectare (10 acre) hilltop.
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Building the new neighborhood, the plan’s managers claim, is necessary to lowering the cost of living in the capital.
However, most of those present at the meeting argued that the plan will fail to alleviate housing issues and cause severe environmental damage to the hillside, which overlooks Emek Ha’arazim (Cedar Valley).
“Everyone says this is a big mistake,” Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Tamir Nir told the panel, after speaking about the Jerusalem’s “debt” to residents to improve existing neighborhoods.
“Continuity depends on environment, community and finance.
Regarding these three factors, this plan is almost completely unsuccessful.”
Though earlier in the meeting, representatives from the planning team, lead by Ari Cohen, appeared confident and talkative. Their demeanors noticeably changed while Nir and other city officials heavily criticized their initiative.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post afterward, Nir said that although the current municipality is very much opposed to the plan and could have the power to overturn it, that opinion could easily change with a new city government. He also apologized to Cohen for his harsh criticisms during the proceedings, noting “it’s nothing personal.”
The Jerusalem Municipality’s chief engineer, Shlomo Eshkol, slammed the plan as well, mainly for not aligning with the city’s urban renewal program, focusing on development in the city center and along the light rail. Eshkol said the proposed neighborhood is “completely nonessential” since it does not fulfill either criteria.
“We need to focus our power where we can make an impact – not toward urban sprawl,” Eshkol said.
Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy was among the Knesset officials to speak out in opposition. He said it was irrational to build a new neighborhood so far from the city center. “The plan costs four times that of the average urban [construction project],” he said.
“That’s in addition to the unnecessary and intolerable health and environment harm...if the plan goes through, then the government will look to take powers away from the VATMAL.”
Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen-Paran said that the plan will only worsen the city’s “lack of open space” in addition to the ecological downsides. The most environmentally friendly plan, before taking away more green spaces, would be to improve existing neighborhoods and reduce the need for private vehicles, she explained.
She said that the Mitzpe Neftoah neighborhood would fail on all these counts. “We’re trying to lower apartment prices, but requiring each one to have two cars,” she said. “The cost of the cars each month, thousands of shekels, is more than the cost of the mortgage.”
Refuting the claims that Jerusalem desperately needs cheaper housing, Hebrew University professors Yoram Meishar and Avi Ben-Bassat presented figures showing that Jerusalem housing prices have not changed as dramatically as in other parts of the country. For example, while prices in Jerusalem have risen by 49 percent since 2008, they have risen by 86% in Tel Aviv during the same period.
Four additional public sessions about the proposed neighborhood were scheduled to take place on June 2, 7, 13 and 14 in the Bayit Vegan Guest House auditorium in Jerusalem.
This article first appeared on The Jerusalem Post. Click here to view the original article.
RUINS OF LIFTA
A film by Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky
2016, Documentary, English, 77 minutes, Digital
A First Run Features release
First Run Features announces the New York theatrical premiere of THE RUINS OF LIFTA on September 23, 2016 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas
In this new documentary from filmmakers Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky (Hiding and Seeking, A Life Apart), audiences will travel to Lifta—the only Palestinian village abandoned during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that has not been destroyed or repopulated by Jews. The land and its buildings, at the western entrance to Jerusalem, is a place of great beauty and significant history, yet is rarely a destination on any tourist map. Lifta is now threatened by an Israeli development plan that would convert it into an upscale Jewish neighborhood and forever change its character. With the support of the Palestinian and Jewish Coalition to Save Lifta, Lifta has become a battleground between developers, the Israeli Land authority, and its defenders. Lifta's unique history and architectural treasures have made it a candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage site, pending far from certain Israeli government approval.
The story told in THE RUINS OF LIFTA revolves around the conflict's underpinnings: the Holocaust and the Nakba (the Palestinian exile of 1948). It begins with filmmaker Menachem Daum's parents' devastating Holocaust experiences. Their perspective (as seen in the film Hiding and Seeking) deeply influenced Menachem's views of non-Jews, the Polish people, and Palestinians. An Orthodox Jew who grew up among Holocaust Survivors, Menachem Daum began questioning the narrow views of his community. He sets out to examine those views by establishing a personal relationship with a Palestinian. The first Palestinian he meets is Yacoub Odeh, who was expelled from Lifta in 1948 and now leads the struggle to save the haunting ruins of his village from Israeli plans to build luxury villas on the site.
When Menachem learns that Lifta was once a place where Jews and Palestinians got along, and that his revered uncle might have been involved in Jewish militia attacks on Lifta, he seeks out family members as well as Israeli and Palestinian witnesses and historians. These include Benny Morris, Hillel Cohen and Palestinian lawyer Sami Arshid. Menachem meets members of the Coalition to Save Lifta, including Yacoub, Daphna Golan and Ilan Shatyer and debates joining Yacoub's campaign with Dasha Rittenberg, a Holocaust Survivor in New York who is a close friend. In a move at reconciliation, he sets up a climactic encounter between Dasha and Yacoub among the ruins of Lifta.
Rudavsky and Daum present this unique story, a microcosm of the Middle Eastern conflict, with unprecedented honesty and compassion. As Rudavsky states, "Through an open discussion with some of the most thoughtful inhabitants of the land, we have sought to impart what we have learned to a wider public."
Oren Rudavsky (director, co-producer and director of photography) was co-producer and co-director of HIDING AND SEEKING and A LIFE APART. Rudavsky is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and has received awards and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the New York State Council for the Arts and more. His most recently completed film COLLDING DREAMS is a feature length documentary that was supported by a media grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is currently producing a film on Joseph Pulitzer for American Masters.
Menachem Daum (director and co-producer) was also co-producer and co-director of HIDING AND SEEKING and A LIFE APART. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy and Sarah Jessica Parker, A LIFE APART explores the post-Holocaust revival of Hasidism in America and the intergenerational transmission of Hasidic values from Holocaust survivors to their American-born children. It went on to win numerous awards including a CINE Golden Eagle and was nominated for a national Emmy. It was broadcast nationally on PBS. HIDING AND SEEKING was funded by ITVS and was broadcast nationally on PBS POV. It was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. Daum is also a frequent contributor to PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.
Nir Barkat slams zoning authority for proposal to destroy park that houses one of Israel’s largest concentration of gazelles
By Avi Lewis [Published June-2015]
The housing cabinet, chaired by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, announced Monday that the Mitzpeh Naftoah nature park will be slated as a “priority area” for construction of new housing units.
The motion received the blessing of Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabai, a member of Kahlon’s Kulanu party, Hebrew media reported.
Blueprints for the new neighborhood in the Jerusalem forest, just south of Ramot, were drawn up by the Israel Lands Authority — allegedly under the nose of Barkat and the Jerusalem city council.
“It’s not clear to me why the Israel Lands Authority chose to thumb its nose so crudely at the municipality’s policy,” Barkat wrote Monday in a Facebook post.
“Mitzpeh Naftoah is one of the principal green lungs of the city — which according to experts, contains one of the unique natural sites in the world in terms of its wealth of biodiversity, including a wide range of local wildlife, such as the largest herd of gazelles in the Judean Hills and other animals — now in danger of extinction,” he said.
“I won’t allow them to revive construction plans in west Jerusalem that will bring serious harm to the city and the destruction of its green areas,” he said.
Barkat has been at loggerheads with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the prime minister’s appointment of a Jerusalem affairs minister — Ze’ev Elkin — despite a preelection promise to not do so.
“I’m troubled that narrow political considerations will bring about both a waste of public funds and more unnecessary bureaucracy that will make the work of the government and the municipality in developing and advancing Jerusalem more difficult,” Barkat said in a statement when Elkin’s appointment was announced on May 26.
In the March election, Kahlon campaigned on a housing and social reforms bill, vowing to build thousands of new units to curb skyrocketing real estate prices.
Before the bulldozers move in, construction plans must receive authorization from a government planning committee.
Environmental groups and residents of the Ramot neighborhood came out strongly against the scheme, citing landscape, recreational and environmental issues.
“One thousand five hundred species of plants exist in England, and here, squeezed in an area of 60 hectares, there are 500 species of plants. Nowhere in the world is there such a rich biodiversity packed in an area so dense,” Professor Alon Tal, of the Jewish National Fund, told the Walla news site.
“One hundred species of birds and a rich variety of animals [live in the park], some of which are threatened with extinction. It’s also one of the final remaining vantage points where one can get a glimpse of the scenery of [Jerusalem as it existed at the time of the biblical kings] David and Solomon. It also contains archaeological remains and remnants of ancient agricultural,” he said.
“The tragedy is that [they’re doing it]… to try and lower the price of housing, but there are other alternatives to such an exceptional site”, he said.
Source: Times of Israel
Application has been accepted to place Lifta on the UNESCO Tentative List.
We wanted to give you an update, Lifta, thanks to the Lifta Coalition and other organizations submitted an application to the Israel Commission for UNESCO to include Lifta in their Tentative List of Heritage Sites.
This application has been accepted and Lifta is now on the Tentative List.
We hope this will be the first step towards the recognition of Lifta as UNESCO World Heritage Site, and that this decision would support the Lifta Society, the Lifta Coalition and all organizations working on the case to preserve Lifta village.
Below a few documents in English, Arabic and Hebrew on this case
Lifta Society and Lifta Coalition
Palestinians fear the old stone houses of Lifta, the last deserted pre-1948 Palestinian village, will soon be destroyed.
By Vinciane Jacquet
Yacoub Odeh lived with his family in Lifta. The roof of his home was blown off by the Israeli Army in 1969, but the remains of the house are still visible. He remembers a childhood of gardens, olive groves and racing other children to school.
The last deserted pre-1948 Palestinian village in Israel is facing possible destruction. Located on the outskirts of Jerusalem, the village of Lifta is an empty collection of old stone houses that have fallen into neglect. For the past 20 years, the Israeli government has pushed to destroy the remaining buildings to make room for new luxury homes, hotels, a shopping mall and a recreation park. The courts have rejected governmental requests to build, but the construction of a new railway line through the village has many thinking the end is near.
In the meantime, local Israeli Jews use Lifta as a picnic spot and swim in its ancient spring. For the few surviving Palestinians who were born in Lifta, visiting their former village brings a mix of emotions: nostalgia for an idyllic childhood spent amongst the olive groves, and bitterness at the destruction and appropriation of their homes and heritage.
Lifta's inhabitants were systematically expelled by Israeli forces between 1947 and 1948. Afterwards, Jewish immigrants, mostly from Yemen, moved into the empty homes. Following the Six-Day War in 1967, the Israeli government offered the Jewish residents of Lifta new homes in Jerusalem; they happily accepted, and blew up the roofs of Lifta's houses before leaving to ensure no-one would return.
The Palestinian villages inside present-day Israel, deserted in 1948, have largely disappeared from the map. While Israel still retains around one million Palestinian residents, many fear the destruction of Lifta would erase, once and for all, the memory of those Palestinians who lost their homes when the state of Israel was created.
“You will go home and you will arrive happy. But I can’t go to my home, to my grandfather in the graveyard. I will never forget, my world is here.” - Ya'coub Odeh
The story of Mr Ya’coub Odeh, 74, born 1940 in Lifta village, age 8 when forced to leave Lifta in February 1948. Notes taken 10 May 2014.
“They came to Lifta. They burned the Mukhtar’s house. Two days later they burned twenty houses. Everyone wanted to leave, but the Zionist gangs forced the Jews to stay and the Arabs to leave. The Zionist gangs controlled the main entrance to Lifta [Ya’coub points up the hill toward Jerusalem] – so they controlled the whole village. They blocked the road to Jerusalem.
I remember that time. They were shooting to stop people going to Jerusalem.
I remember we spent some days down in a house in the lower village. I remember my mother was making a fire for cooking. My brother came running and shouting, ‘Mama, the Jews, the Jews, shooting!’
I remember my father carrying my small sister on one shoulder and my brother on the other shoulder, down the valley away from the village. My father sent us in a truck. There were many families, many children.
We went to Abu Ghosh. At the entrance there we heard, ‘Don’t come in, you will die!’ Someone had been shot the previous day.
We went to Latrun, where there is now Canada Park standing on three villages – Imwas, Yalo, Deir Ayyub. We went to Imwas, then to Beituniya and to Ramallah. It was very cold, winter.
Lifta was one of the first villages cleansed, kicked out. We went knocking on doors, asking for food. Can you imagine you leaving your home? We had everything. We were like kings on our land. Now we were asking for food, for help.
Two months later Deir Yassin happened. None of the families remained after the massacre.
After that we came back to the village, but it was empty, everything was burned. Since that time, we can’t return.
My father died one year after the ’67 War. He was sad that he had to ask for help after we left the village.
After that, I came with my uncles, aunts, to the village. They said, ‘Here was my house! Here was your house! Here was the mosque!’
I brought my mother back. She cried, ‘For what?! Here is my father, my mother, my brother. For what all this?!’
There was a Jewish man in one house. He invited us in – ‘I cannot give you coffee, tea, juice. I have only water. This is not a celebration. I did not do this. Where is Ahmed [Ya’coub’s father]?!’ My mother said my father was not here, ‘but here is his son.’ The Jewish man had gone to school with my father.
The Israelis were afraid we could come back to our village, so they broke the roofs of the houses so we couldn’t return.
Now Jews come from the world to live in our houses. I have the Israeli ID, and I cannot live in my house.”
About Lifta village
“Lifta is a Palestinian village located to the northwest of Jerusalem, divided by the 1949 Armistice green line leaving part of it in the West, the other part in East Jerusalem. It has been inhabited for over 2000 years, long before the establishment of Israel.
As a result of the Nakba in 48 and the massacre in the nearby village of Deir Yassine, the remaining inhabitants were forced to leave seeking protection. Like in other parts of Palestine occupied in 48, the Israeli government considered Lifta and its remains as absentee property, while many of its property owners and residents live as close as 500 m away, in East Jerusalem.
Currently, the Jerusalem Municipality is proceeding with its plan to turn Lifta into a Jewish luxury residential commercial neighbourhood, deleting any presence of Palestinian cultural heritage. Today, to save Lifta, descendants with activists and friends are appealing to the Israeli Court against this violation and illegal act.” - Centre for Jerusalem Studies
Source: Beyond Compromise website
By János Chialá
Driving into Jerusalem from the coast, just before the gates of the city lies a ghost village: Lifta. For thousands of years, many different people inhabited these steep slopes and many armies have passed through them on their way to Jerusalem, whose old city is but a few hills away, often not with the best of intentions. The last stable residents were forced to leave during the civil war of 1948, and since then the houses of Lifta have been slowly crumbling away. However, the history of the village did not end there, and today the place is far from empty.
A German illustration from the end of the 19th century records the village in its better days, half a century before its downfall. Established more than 2,500 years ago, when it was called Mein Neftoach, the village is mentioned in the Torah as the northernmost possession of the tribe of Judah. Like most of the Land of Israel, it was destroyed by the Roman legions which eventually also destroyed Jerusalem. Crusaders returned to the village, which they referred to as Clepsta, and by the year 1569 some 400 people where register to live there by the Ottoman Authorities, in the village of Lifta.
Its history would be quite typical of many in Palestine, and would include a long succession of armed invasions: it was violently occupied in 1834 because of its resistance to Egyptian rule, while in 1917 its inhabitants chose to open its gates to the conquering British soldiers, raising white flags. Its population grew quickly under the British Mandate, thanks to a period of economic expansion also due to the steady development of the Zionist enterprise, going from 1,500 in 1922 to almost 3,000 in 1948, with about one tenth of the land owned and inhabited by Jews and the rest by Arabs.
Things fell apart as civil war among the Jewish and Palestinian communities broke out, with the village sitting right by the main artery connecting Jerusalem to the coast and the main Jewish settlements, whose traffic came increasingly under attack by Arab fighters. In 1947 a resident of Lifta who had allegedly spied on Jewish convoys was killed, and on the 28th of February a small group of underground Jewish fighters, the Stern Gang, attacked a coffee-house in the village, killing six people and wounding seven others. By February next year, the village was empty.
In the following months, which saw total warfare between the rising Jewish state and an Arab coalition made up of foreign soldiers and Palestinian fighters, Lifta was demolished, with about 50 structures left standing which make it one of the few depopulated Palestinian villages to not have been completely erased. Some of its inhabitants who during the fighting moved to communities on the other side of the valley were barred by Israeli authorities from returning to their homes, and would be forced to watch them crumble.
As Jewish Jerusalem expanded, the ruined village became a deserted corner between two of the main highways to the city, and turned into a shelter for a variety of people. In 1984, an Israeli terrorist organization know as “the Jewish Underground” used it as a base from which to plot the destruction of the Al-Aqsa mosques, and various groups of hippies, runaways and drug addicts have inhabited it, establishing a stable presence which today also includes many ultra-orthodox youth whom, for one reason or another, need a place and some quiet.
Declared a nature reserve in 1959, Lifta was renamed Ein Neftoach, as Israeli authorities sought to bring back to light the country’s biblical past. As with many places in Jerusalem, the old name somewhat stuck, even as the village’s spring became a popular hangout spot for Jerusalemites, who on a hot a day are always looking for a spring. The memory of Lifta was preserved by its refugees, who to this day reclaim their right to return and have established the Lifta Society, based in Chicago in order to keep its identity alive and continue it with events and activities.
In 2006 a plan was approved to gentrify the site, turning it into an upscale development with a hotel and a shopping mall, although in the words of its architect, the place’s “genetic code” would be preserved by building “something as authentic as possible.” Even the Society for the Preservation of Israeli Heritage Sites joined the opposition to the plan, which was shelved in 2011, leaving Lifta in a limbo, its ruined houses largely empty and its spring echoing with the voices of families and couples who enjoy the beauty of this hidden corner of Jerusalem, yet might be completely unaware of its violent history.
Nearly two years after an Israeli court halted state plans to sell the last uninhabited pre-1948 Arab village, the site continues to crumble.
By Lauren Gelfond Feldinger
Lifta, burrowed in the slopes at the Western entrance to Jerusalem, was temporarily saved as is: pastoral, dilapidated and frozen in time. The Jerusalem court ruled in February 2012 that the Israel Land Authority could not sell to luxury developers until they contracted the Israel Antiquities Authority's conservation wing to survey more widely.
The ILA and IAA did not answer questions about when a new survey will begin. But dozens of Israeli and Palestinian architects, engineers, urban planners, sociologists, anthropologists, ecologists, zoologists, and university students have already started independent professional surveys―as volunteers.
The Coalition to Save Lifta, founded three years ago, is comprised of concerned Israelis and Palestinians as well as Lifta descendants and natives who fled or were expelled during the 1947-8 war; many live in nearby east Jerusalem or Ramallah.
So far, the coalition has recorded oral histories, nature and wildlife surveys, and detailed information on homes. Bezalel Academy’s architecture department has started uploading the findings to an online archive, including maps and photos, and will integrate stories of life in the village and related links.
Coalition members say they are following international conservation norms observed in such countries as Italy and Australia―but not in Israel. Shmuel Groag, a Bezalel Academy architect, explains that cultural heritage practices today don’t assess and preserve sites based solely on antiquities or historical buildings, but also on the heritage of flora, fauna, and communities. “The discourse of conservation has changed, [yet] nobody in Israel does social, cultural and ecological [surveys],” he said. “We want to build a precedent.”
Groag also said that Israeli law only deals with antiquities older than 1700 years: “No body officially deals with conservation [of younger structures]; there is no general policy and no broad survey[s].”
Palestinian civil engineer Nasser Abu Leil, who worked on the architectural survey, said that so far the family histories of all but three or four houses have been found.
The coalition members―Jews and Arabs, secular and religious, political as well as those interested only in heritage or nature―have diverse opinions about long-term political considerations and partnerships under the pressure of boycotts, “but we all agree on conservation,” he said.
In 1950, Israel designated the 400 or so Arab communities whose residents fled or were expelled during the war as state-owned “absentee property.” Residents were neither permitted to return nor compensated. Empty Arab neighborhoods―with the exception of Lifta―were razed or repopulated with Jewish communities. Lifta remains empty, save a few houses on its periphery resettled after the war with poor Jewish immigrants from Arabic-speaking countries.
The coalition’s pro bono lawyer, Sami Ersheid, says that international law and resolutions prohibit actions influencing Palestinian refugees until the end of negotiations, so Israel cannot sell or build atop the houses―an argument Israel rejects. Ersheid also said that international preservation codes “put the burden on Israel to give deeper thought and more delicate treatment for a site like Lifta.”
Full of springs, fruit trees, cactuses and stone structures, Lifta was initially slated to be a nature preserve. In 2006, a plan was approved for the sale of a large part of Lifta in order to build 268 luxury homes, schools, synagogues, parking, a hotel, roads and a large commercial center. The remaining old stone houses, about four dozen, would be renovated into villas maintaining the architectural style. Some historical structures, including the mosque, the cemetery and a Crusader building, would be preserved.
The plan also led to eviction notices without compensation to the remaining Jewish families, who joined the coalition and gave oral histories.
One of the Jews who stayed in Lifta until his death became close with the Palestinians who owned his home and visited after 1967. Lifta reminded him of his village in Kurdistan and the two families found many commonalities, said coalition co-founder Daphna Golan, a Hebrew University sociologist. “The coalition brings together the rights of two marginalized groups, Palestinians and Mizrahi Jews.”
Golan also said that an extremely rare diversity of plants and wildlife has been found and that the ancient agricultural terraces and irrigation systems are similar to the ones in Battir, listed last month by the World Monuments Fund as endangered. “Israel’s first president, Ben Zvi, wrote about [Lifta’s] agriculture being a continuation of biblical [traditions],” Golan said.
According to the IAA, a village called Mei Neftoah there was destroyed during the Roman invasion and Lifta started to develop in the sixteenth century around Crusader ruins.
Jerusalem historian David Kroyanker, who is unaffiliated with the coalition, called Lifta a rare and interesting example of pre-1948 rural Arab architecture. Many homes are similar to the structures of the biblical period, he said. He added that he hadn’t seen the development plan so couldn’t comment on it.
For private Israeli researcher Ilan Shtayer, a coalition cofounder and son of a Holocaust survivor, “there is market pressure in Jerusalem to [gentrify but]” Israel should protect non-Jewish heritage the way that European countries should protect Jewish heritage as “shared heritage.”
Yaqoub Odeh, 76, who was born in Lifta, knows that the political issues are harder to resolve, but it’s important to focus on immediate steps, he said: “I dream to go home, but the main idea of the coalition is to protect Lifta from bulldozers and the weather.”
Source: The Daily Beast
It's all about people: Narratives from Lifta
By Laura van Rij
עאידה נג'אר בשמלה מסורתית מליפתא / Aida Najjar with a Lifta traditional dress // Laura van Rij
Next to the western entrance of Jerusalem you can see the ruins of Lifta. This village has been a home to people from different backgrounds, Palestinians and Jews). Maybe that is why it became a symbol for the conflict in the region. Listening to the stories of the people of Lifta makes you understand what impact political decisions have on people’s lives and how important it is to listen to their memories and visions on the future.
While reading the interviews of Palestinians and Jews it is important to keep in mind that the existing power relations are visible in some of the stories and hidden in others. In the stories of the Palestinian refugees one can read them almost in every sentence (We can´t go back there…). The narrative of the people in power, those that want to start building in Lifta, is not present. They didn´t respond to my request for their story.
I am Laura van Rij from The Netherlands, doing an internship at Zochrot as part of my master degree in Public History at the University of Amsterdam. From April until July I travelled from Tel Aviv to Ramallah and from Amman to Jerusalem to document the stories of the people of Lifta.
I would like to thank Eitan Bronstein Aparicio from Zochrot for the supervision and translation of most of the interviews from English to Hebrew. I would also like to thank Yonat Nitzan-Green for her translations voluntarily to Hebrew.
By John Lilburne
Photo description: Huda al Imam receiving a Plaque from Lifta Charitable Society - Palestine in appreciation of the Centre for Jerusalem Studies efforts - Al-Quds University, generosity and noble stand concerning the historic document and defense of the rights of Lifta village in the Jerusalem district.
Israel confiscated the village land under the Absentee Property law in 1950, despite recognition by the Fourth Geneva Convention of the right of refugees to be repatriated.
Some of its inhabitants found shelter a few hundred meters away, certain of soon being able to return to their former homes, while others fled to the West Bank and are now unable to visit their village due to the severe restrictions on Palestinian movement imposed by the Israeli government.
Last year, the Israel Land Authority (ILA) issued a tender for a construction plan for 212 luxury housing units on the Lifta site. The Jerusalem District Court for technical reasons rejected the measure, but the plan is still on stand-by.
One of the former inhabitants of Lifta is Yacoub Odeh, born in 1940 and among the last holders of the oral history of the village. When not working at the Land & Housing Research Centre in Jerusalem, Odeh organises guided tours, bringing Lifta back to life for a couple of hours with memories of the bread baked in the tabboun, the taste of za’tar and fresh olive oil and the smell of homemade ka’ak. Odeh recounts how the members of the community lived, how they shared food and water and helped one another cultivate their lands. He describes his village as jennah, or "paradise" but goes on to acknowledge, "As Arabs say, paradise without people is nothing."
Due to its strategic position, Lifta was one of the first villages attacked by the Israeli forces in 1948, the year remembered by Palestinians as the Nakba, the catastrophe. Odeh was only 8 years old at that time, but his memories of that day are still vivid. When he heard the shooting, he was at home with his mother, who hid him and his siblings under a table.
One of the men of the village used his truck to drive the children to Ramallah, away from the conflict. "One moment we had everything, we were happy, and the moment after we were beggars," Odeh remembers. During the tours, he carries with him many documents proving Palestinian ownership of the land, one of which dates back to the Ottoman Empire.
"Unfortunately," he argues, "this is not a matter of law, but of law of force."
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