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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