From the mountains northwest of Jerusalem, the village of Lifta overlooked the holy city with its mosque, school and houses all built in an artistic architectural style.
Published March 31, 2011 by Misa abu Ghazala, PNN
The agricultural land was cultivated with olive trees, vegetables and grain, which reached the boundary of the Old City at the western gate. Lifta was one of the most important villages surrounding the capital in terms of money and agricultural wealth.
More than 60 years after the Nakba, I had the opportunity to visit the village of Lifta, which I have often written and read about, accompanied by Jacob Awda, head of the Lifta village council, and one of his children.
When we reached the area I was surprised to find that the village was large and developed. In 1948 it was home to some 3,000 people in more than 700 homes.
Now the main roads have disappeared but some of the homes, mosques, springs and cemeteries still bear witness to its history and the life with which it was so full.
The village was composed of five different tribes; Aida, Muqbal, Safran, Ghaban and Saad. After the Nakba the inhabitants emigrated to Jeruslam, Ramallah and Jordan; today there are about 3,000 of them in Jerusalem and 15,000 to 20,000 in Jordan and Ramallah.
The village is about 15 minutes from Jerusalem by car as it is situated on the highway linking the city’s various neighbourhoods and settlements which extends as far as the eastern Arab districts such as Sheikh Jarah, Wadi al-Juz, al-Tor, the Hebrew University, French Hill, the Knesset and the Israeli museum, the central bus station ,the House of the Nation and other places to the West.
Nephtoah, Nephth, Clepsta and then Lifta
Awda explained that Lifta was a Canaanite settlement until 2000 BC when it was called Nephtoah; then during the Roman and Byzantine times, it was known as Nephtho. The Muslim Arabs used its Canaanite name Nephtoah while the invading crusaders gave it the name Clepsta. The current name Lifta appears in documents in the Palestinian museum and the sharia court from more than 800 years ago.
The village spring
At the beginning of the tour I came to the spring around which the village was founded. The spring is a large basin into which water flows down between the rocks. It is the source of life which the village was dependent upon for water for drinking, domestic uses and irrigation. As Awda says, “When we see the spring and the square next to it, old wounds are opened since the square is part of our history and memories.”
The people used to gather there during weddings and funerals and stay up while the children played and the parents played the ‘rababa’.
Today the spring is not as it used to be, due to excavations and the roads which serve the Israeli settlements. Awda explains that although there were a few Israeli settlers swimming in the pond, this is due to their religious beliefs. In the pond they wash away their sins.
The Stone Homes Built by Skilled Hands
I walked a fair distance between the homes which are set out in a semi-circular formation and consist of two floors and an area for rearing livestock and poultry. The houses maintain their structure despite weathering and neglect over the years, perhaps because of their precise construction, explained Jacob Awda, as the villagers built their homes by hand after quarrying the rock from the village. He added that Israeli university students have been going on tours of the village to learn from the architecture.
Many of the houses are characterized by taboon bread ovens, Awda noted that this demonstrates the strength of the bond between the people of the village.
Some of these houses were used by Israeli drug addicts while the native people were banned from sitting there to reminisce about the past.
The village mosque
In the centre of the village one can still find the mosque which is made up of two rooms, one large and one small, and a mihrab. Next to the mosque there is the chapel of Sheikh Saif al-Din dedicated to Emir Saif al-Din bin Hussein bin Qasim al Hakkari, one of the Ayyubid warlords of Salah al-Din. History tells us that the emir settled in the village after the victory of the Tartar army of the Maluks in the battle of Ain Goliath. Awda noted that the large room used to be used to teach the children of the village.
The village school
Lifta school, which I couldn’t get to as it is far from the centre of Lifta, was established in 1929 and is considered to be the first school established in Jerusalem which, until the Nakba, went from first to seventh grade and still exists today although it is used as school for the Jews of Khilet al-Tarha, known as Romema.
The village cemetery
After walking for some time between the trees, cacti, figs and wild plants I arrived at the village cemetery where some vestiges remain on the graves of the names of the people who lived there. The graves were not displaced and the younger generations of the village preserve it and keep it tidy.
Farming in the village
The village of Lifta stretches for more than 12,000 dunams in land occupied during the Nakba and the Naksa, more than 3,300 of them were planted with fruit trees, vegetables and grain and about 1,100 dunams were planted with olive trees, this explains the presence of four olive presses which were used to extract the oil and there were still some rusty tools lying around.
A secret shelter in the village of Lifta
At the end of the village there is a secret underground shelter which is linked to the Knesset via a tunnel which is to be used for the protection of senior Israeli officials in case of a nuclear attack on Israel, said Awda.
Today the village is defying an Israeli plan to confer in the Israeli courts the building of 212 housing units for rich Israelis.
The village of Lifta remains one of more than 400 displaced Palestinian villages, in the words of the Lebanese singer Fairouz, “One day we will return”!!
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