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Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Before the almond trees disappear - Appeal to save Lifta

We do not have to continue to obliterate the past of the Arabs who lived in this land. It would be better to acknowledge the pain of their loss and offer them peaceful coexistence.

By Daphna Golan 

27 February 2011

In the abandoned village of Lifta at the entrance to Jerusalem the almond trees are blossoming, possibly for the last time. The fifty-odd abandoned stone houses between the green terraces and fruit trees are about to disappear and be replaced by homes for wealthy foreigners, which will stay empty and locked for most of the year. The Israel Lands Administration is currently marketing Lifta to private developers without preparing a general conservation plan, as the plan's bylaws require, and without properly integrating the objections received by the District Committee. Marketing the plots also counters the demand of the Antiquities Authority to stop the construction until the completion of "a comprehensive survey that includes detailed building cards for every space that comprises the village's structures in order to document this disappearing construction culture and transmit it to future generations."

LIFTA, ISRAEL - FEBRUARY 18: Yaqub Ouda, a Palestinian refugee from the town of Lifta who fled his home there in 1948, leads a toursponsored by MCC partner Zochrot to teach Israelis about the Nakba.                                                                                                Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Ruins of the Arab village of Lifta at the entrance to Jerusalem.

Photo by: AP

The building plan for Lifta also completely contradicts the policy of affordable housing adopted by the Jerusalem municipality in June 2010 to prevent the flight of young people from the city. In the plan currently being marketed for Lifta, the construction area for a housing unit is between 190-300 m². The development costs alone, without the price of the land, range from half a million to one million shekels per lot. Furthermore, the required building standards prove this is going to be another ghost neighborhood for rich foreign residents who do not live in their Jerusalem apartments or rent them out. Lifta's lots are being marketed even though it is not clear who is going to be in charge of conserving the village's spring and green spaces. In the spirit of the Holyland project, Jerusalem's treasures are being privatized and given to well-connected developers, for them to get rich at the expense of the public and future generations. Lifta is also a small link in the shrinking chain of green around Jerusalem, with extraordinarily beautiful terrace agriculture, a reminder of a disappearing cultural landscape. Lifta could also symbolize the hope for reconciliation.

Many of the people of Lifta, who were evicted and fled in 1948, live in East Jerusalem, not far from their land and homes. In the spirit of the times, with the whole world looking at the Arab world in anticipation, Lifta could be a reminder that we do not have to continue erasing the past of the Arabs who lived in this land, but rather recognize the pain of their loss and offer them peaceful coexistence.

Israel erased more than 400 Arab villages and on their ruins built kibbutzim, moshavim, towns and settlements solely for Jews. What do the Palestinian refugees think? How do they see their future? How can Israel reconcile with hundreds of thousands of people who dream to return to their homes, most of which were demolished, and their lands, which were resettled? Lifta is an opportunity for us Jews in Israel and the world to ask the refugees: how do you see the future of your village? Perhaps we should listen to them.

The residents of Lifta had thousands of dunams of land before 1948. On some of this land Israel built the Knesset, the Supreme Court, the government compound, the central bus station and the Hebrew University campus on Givat Ram. Now, with only 55 houses, a cemetery, a spring and a few dozen almond trees left, maybe it is time to ask what kind of neighborly relations we are building between Jews and Arabs? What is Israel offering Yacoub and Somaya and Zakariya, who were born and raised in Lifta? What are we Israelis, born and raised on the denial of the Arab existence in this country, offering our own children? A city with a suppressed past, a conflicted present and an unknown future. While the whole Middle East is rising up against oppressive regimes, the Jerusalem municipality is offering us a new disaster, the disaster of Lifta.

A five minutes walk from the Cord Bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem, dozens of almond trees and hundreds of wildflowers are blooming, maybe for the last time. Lifta, which did not turn into a village for artists and wealthy people, like Ein Kerem or Ein Hod, stands in its unique desolation with its houses whose roofs were blasted off by the army. Maybe the anemones will continue blossoming as they did this week at the feet of the giant Tower of Babylon blinking day and night? This could be a little village where Jews and Arabs sit together in a café. A place that allows Israelis to recognize the disaster of the Palestinian people, apologize and explore ways to live together in the future. Until we have a peace accord, we can ask the people of Lifta, many of whom are building engineers, architects and contractors, to conserve the village by minimally stabilizing and reinforcing the existing buildings and to draw up a joint plan for the future.

So long as there is no dialogue between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem over the city's future, every new building plan is the destruction of hope. From the local committee's recommendation on new construction in Sheikh Jarrah-Um Haroun last week to the Lifta plan, the trend of building on Palestinian land must stop. The people of Jerusalem succeeded in defending the city's Deer Valley. Maybe we can also conserve the village of Lifta, in its present, green and beautiful condition, for future generations?