The tender was issued following the Jerusalem Municipality approval of construction of 268 housing units, one hotel and a number of community institutions on the site of the ancient Palestinian village, the residents of which were expelled in 1948.
The petition to save Lifta was submitted on Sunday by Attorney Sami Arshid on behalf of Jerusalem activists, including descendents of Lifta, the Bnei Lifta Association, Rabbis for Human Rights and the Jafra Association.
According to the petitioners, “in the given situation and according to which the village of Lifta is an abandoned village and its original inhabitants live as refugees at a distance of only a few hundred metres from their village, it would have been befitting to abstain from all construction in the area and certainly to prevent building that would result in destruction of the village and the complete dispossession of the rights of the original inhabitants of the place”.
The petitioners further write that the “marketing of plots for building in the village of Lifta and furthermore the construction of new buildings on the village lands and in place of the existing village could thwart the ability to preserve the existing village and foil any possibility of reconstructing the historic structure of the village, and everything that is derived from this.”
Before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, more than 3,000 Palestinians lived in Lifta, but the village was depopulated during the 1948 war and partially destroyed. It is one of the few of the 500 villages that had not been completely destroyed by Israeli forces in the time since.
The AIC spoke with Meir Margalit, a member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council, about the situation in Lifta. He told the AIC, “I am extremely fearful that Lifta will eventually turn into an exclusive neighborhood, similar to neighborhoods such as Mamilla and other places where flats were sold to Jews from France and New York. I fear that Lifta will be a ghost neighborhood.”
Numerous organisations, especially BIMKOM, Zochrot and FAST have lobbied for the village to be listed by UNESCO as a heritage site, as a symbol of reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, and for alternative plans they have formulated with the Land and Housing Research Centre.
Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine in 2005 placed an advertisement in the Times, signed by over 350 architects and planners worldwide, many of them eminent figures including academics, to help save Lifta for its original Palestinian inhabitants.
Esther Zandberg in Haaretz has again written a moving plea for the village to be symbolically returned to those who were forcibly removed from there, instead of building 212 luxury apartments that will be bought only by Jewish people, in the proposed decade-long project (plan number 6036) that the Israel Land Administration wishes now to commence.
According to a press release from the Coalition to Save Lifta, the court petitioners have requested that the court order an annulment of the tender to sell plots in Lifta and order the Israel Land Administration to desist from any action that would damage the physical and cultural heritage of the place, until an inclusive planning process is completed that includes the area of Lifta. This would ultimately include planning for preservation of the site in accordance with professional standards and with public participation.
“There are 37 Lifta refugees in East Jerusalem and Ramallah, and we have a Lifta Association; and now the internet makes it possible to keep in touch with those that have moved further away,” said Yakub Odeh, a Lifta refugee.
“We all want to return to our village. I’m sure we can achieve our dream through peaceful means….We will never give in. They say that every human being is born in the land, but for us Palestinians, our land is born in us.”