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Israel meets Palestine: A Jewish Poet Encounters Lifta

posted Feb 18, 2013, 10:25 AM by Lifta Society   [ updated May 12, 2013, 10:02 PM ]

Through collaboration with Lifta Society, Menachem Daum (right) visit Lifta with Marc Kaminsky (Left)

Video by friend of Lifta Society, Menachem Daum.  Learn more about Menachem Daum.
Lifta, a ghost town in the foothills of Jerusalem, is the only Arab village abandoned in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that has not been completely destroyed or re-populated by Jews. 
 
Its Arab heritage, architecture and history will be erased if the Israel Land Authority is able to go ahead with its proposed sale of Lifta to developers who plan to build more than 250 luxury villas, shops and a hotel on the site. 
A respected Jewish poet, Marc Kaminsky, visits this site to see what will be lost if the "development" plan goes through. 
Marc is finishing a book of poems inspired by his visit. The following poems, Pray for Me in Lifta, Constellations of Lifta, and the The Domes of Lifta will appear in his book.

Pray for me in Lifta
Poem by Marc Kaminsky for Lifta
I ask you, my brothers 
and sisters of the settlements,
 to pray for me at Lifta.
Even though you believe 
I betray you in feeling the Palestinians 
are my brothers and sisters, 
I ask you to pray that I don't 
succumb to despair at Lifta. 
And pray for all those who remember a time when Arabs and Jews lived here 
as neighbors, we went to each other's 
weddings, our wells were fed by the same 
table of water under our fields.
 
Now each of us carries wronged ancestors
to this place of impossibility, 
but only you, my brothers and sisters, 
assert your right to the whole land 
and maintain the whole lineage of Abraham survives in the one voice 
with which you claim a monopoly of truth and violence.
I have little hope that you will allow 
your imagination to wander into the black hole 
given form by the shells of houses at Lifta, 
but if this were to happen, the invisibility of its former 
residents would be unveiled to you, 
you would find in Lifta a remnant of war but also 
a remnant of peace, you would see 
that on the site of loss, hopes are born.
Prayer, like poetry, crosses over into supernal 
territories on passports that can't be 
checked at the borders of the Impossible.
So I seek to incite a caring you didn't know 
you had in you. And you mobilize G-d-language when you drive mobile homes onto the hilltops of Arab villages to set up illegal outposts, steal their land, cut down and burn 
their olive trees, an act that Talmud forbids 
even in war, you commit these crimes to extend barriers 
of barbed wire, sensors and flesh and blood 
against the Palestinians' return from exile. 
 
How long can this go on? If you refuse 
to let even your neighbor's memories 
abide in his own home, if you fail
to let him remain at least visibly unhoused 
at Lifta, I fear you, 
in your zealotry, will bring destruction to Israel,
if not as a crazyquilt of militarized zones, 
then as the just land our prophets called Zion.  
And because I say these things for your advantage, 
I ask you to pray for me at Lifta.
Constellations of Lifta
Poem by Marc Kaminsky for Lifta
The houses of Lifta are crumbling. 
They need renovation. The village is a 
haven for drug addicts, prostitutes, vagrants.
They've defaced the walls with graffiti. 
Trash of their campfires litters the ground. 
We will clean them out and develop 
a thriving community on this deserted spot. 
We are a new nation that has to progress. 
It’s not our place to save Palestinian heritage.  
The cost of preserving the buildings 
would be astronomical—hundreds of millions of shekels.
The houses of Lifta are a haven for memory.  
Invisible guests come and go at will in our mosque.
 
 The village is home to the dead in our cemetery 
and the unborn yearn in us to pick figs 
from trees our ancestors planted on terraced hillsides.
The cost of putting up a glittering skyline
to blot out the starting and returning place 
of our dreams would be astronomical: these 
traces of our loss mark the sources of our dignity.
The Domes of Lifta
Poem by Marc Kaminsky for Lifta

I promised to return, and I do.
I come at night along the ridge of hills
surrounding my village, and stand
at the edge of infinity with a crescent
moon in it, veiling my home in the valley below
in a cold dark light:
 
it’s a face with two
blind eyes and a toothless
mouth, yet it knows I am
there—why else
would it stare
at me with so fixed a gaze?
 
And I see Lifta passing
the vacant hours of widowhood
praying that I will materialize
out of her dream that I am
dreaming of her
and fill her insides with my life.
Each home in Lifta was like
the other: a great cube
topped by a dome: the eye
naturally completed the circle
inside the square: eternity
finding shelter on earth.
Lifta is a black dot on the map of the Corpus Separatum, the formal name of the Green Line: it marked the dispositio of the two armies when the fighting stopped.
 
The Green Line no longer appears on Israeli maps, but Lifta remains as a sign of the body
of land separating bloodshed and negotiation,
the demilitarized zone, the border
between Israel and Palestine under the warring
parties made peace. Now the occupier
wants to bury Lifta along with the armistice
line: for him, it’s a corpse
 
contaminating the valley below his city. For me, its pink stone revives the smell of my childhood:
the musk of home wasn’t dispersed when the fighters who forced us out blasted holes in our high-vaulted ceilings
to deny us shelter. We live here in memory, resurrecting the domes of Lifta.
Our grandfathers quarried the white
and pink Jerusalem stone and built
our homes with their own hands,
a rare thing in an urban setting:
we joined the communal life
of the town with the rural life
of farmers: our mosque and social
club and coffee houses and schools
for both girls and boys were sustained
by over 4000 dunams of arable land.
As our poet said, unfortunately,
it was paradise. Olives and grains
in abundance, the markets of Jerusalem
close by, harmony between neighbors,
and between ourselves and the land,
harmony, each home embedded
in the slope of the hillside, stone
of its stone, and no house rose
to block the view of the other.
Anyone with eyes that can read
a people in its architecture
can feel what these buildings contained.
History and eternity intersected
in our daily round. If I die
without living again in Lifta,
and if Lifta and its cemetery are buried
under the façade of a colonial resort,
the place where I was born
will continue to be reborn in you,
my children and grandchildren,
who will never have seen our village.
Nonetheless, when any of you
is asked, Where are you from?
each of you will answer, Lifta.
 
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