Hidden in the heart of Jerusalem is a unique site which sits at the crossroads of two highways and two narratives. Her beautiful homes now sit silent. Films and artists have utilized her unique scenery. An easy stop on the way in or out of Jerusalem, Lifta is an exceptional place to explore nature, history and the tensions of the modern Jewish experience.
Lifta has seen continuous settlement since early Biblical times. Scholars have identified the site as that of Mei Niftoach (מי נפתוח) listed in the book of Joshua as part of the demarcation line between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. There are archeological and literary references to a Jewish settlement in this spot during the Persian and Byzantine Periods as well. Local tradition relates that it was one Safran, an early Jewish convert to Islam, whose extended family (hamule) lived in the village during the beginning of the Muslim period in the land of Israel.
Skipping to end of the 19th century and the Ottoman era, the Jerusalem area began to develop and modernize and so did Lifta. The relationship between the village and the adjacent Jewish neighborhoods had its ups and downs but, as always, business connections brought people together. Jews came to Lifta to acquire etrogim (citrons) before the Succot holiday and the villagers of Lifta would come into the Jewish areas for medical treatment.
During the 20th century, parts of this Muslim village were sold to Jewish buyers (estimates run to 15%- 20% by 1948), mainly the Jewish National Fund. According to the UN partition plan, Lifta was slated with the rest of the greater Jerusalem area to become an international area. In the course of Israel’s War of independence (known by the Palestinians as al-Nakba) Lifta’s residents were driven out due to the conflict. As the war came to a close and new cease-fire lines were drawn, the former inhabitants of Lifta were not allowed to return to their homes although some, who were by then residing in Jordanian East Jerusalem, only lived a short ten-minute drive away. Large tracts of land that has belonged to the village were confiscated by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the new State of Israel.
Poor Jews from the area of today’s Islamic State (IS) were resettled in Lifta’s empty homes in the early 1950’s, however most did not stay due to the lack of basic modern utilities and the location near the border of the divided city. In recent years NGO’s, amongst them former residents, have fought attempts by Israeli contractors to restore some of the homes and create a new upper-class neighborhood on the village’s grounds. Frozen in time, Lifta remains a solemn tribute to a once common way of life in this land, until a new contractor’s tender wins in the courts or the former residents are allowed to return.
Why Visit Lifta?
A wonderful, almost idyllic spot right in the middle of a bustling city, Lifta is a great place to visit especially during the hot summer months. It offers beautiful nature, lots of places for kids to explore and unique attractions in every season. A cool water tunnel that feeds Lifta’s pool provides an exciting adventure for families who like to explore. Depending on the season, delicious fresh fruits are available in abundance along the trail. Religious Jews utilize Lifta’s water as a Mikva and its willow trees are generous contributors to the rituals of Sukkot. I have had the privilege of visiting Lifta in many different seasons and have had a unique experience each time.
Recommended: for families, tourists looking for an easy hike in a great location and anyone interested in modern Israeli history.
Meditation: Lifta provides a wonderful break from the cacophony of the city. With some good visuals and a healthy imagination you can get a real sense of everyday life in pre-modern Jerusalem. What are the advantages and disadvantages of such a life in contradistinction to our modern, technology-driven lives? Can the memories and history of Lifta ultimately “lift” us above our fears?
What in your opinion should be done with these homes? What course of action can do justice to both history and the practical concerns of all parties involved?
Ongoing Events and News about Lifta can be found at liftasociety.org.
Two interesting and important short videos on Lifta:
For Future Research:
Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, 2004.
ענת ברלוביץ, המאבק הציבורי להצלת ליפתא, ללא תאריך
נגה קדמן, בצדי הדרך ובשולי התודעה, 2008