8 March 2011
Coalition to Save Lifta
Also please sign the World Monuments Petition to save Lifta!
Administrative Petition: 8661-03-11
Following a petition submitted yesterday (6 March), Judge Yigal Marzel issued a temporary injunction today ordering the Israel Land Administration to freeze publication of the results of a tender to lease plots for building in the village of Lifta. The petition was submitted 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.
In their petition against the Israel Land Administration, the petitioners requested court intervention to prevent the transfer of assets and property in Lifta to private hands for the establishment of an exclusive real estate project and to halt destruction of the village, which represents a final testimony to the Arab villages and culture of scenery that were widespread in Israel throughout history until the early 20th century.
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.”
The petitioners 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, and which will include planning for preservation of the site in accordance with professional standards and with public participation.
A professional opinion of five senior architects and preservation and planning professionals in Israel was attached to the petition, concerning serious preservation defects in the tender. In the opinion it was determined that the ILA tender does not meet the preservation criteria accepted in Israel and throughout the world, and that full data does not exist that would permit the marketing of the plots and issuance of building permits. Authors of the opinion determine that the tender process must be frozen until completion of the detailed documentation of Lifta, preparation of a building and development plan and conclusion of a development agreement between the ILA and the Jerusalem Municipality.
For additional details:
Dapha Golan: 054 8820698; Yaacoub Odeh (from Lifta): 052 287 2840
Attorney Sami Arshid: 02 6231244
Professional opinion: Architect Shmuel Groag: 050 5922428
Photo by: Seth J. Frantzman
Plans for Lifta luxury housing project temporarily haltedBy MELANIE LIDMAN
9 March 2011
Activists want to finish historical surveys before developers buy land.
A planned luxury housing complex in the historic Arab village of Lifta at the entrance to Jerusalem was temporarily halted on Monday after the Jerusalem District Court ordered the Israel Lands Authority ordered to freeze the published tenders.
A coalition of architects, activists, and former Lifta residents petitioned the courts to halt the project until archeological surveys are finished.
The project, which was approved by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Interior Ministry’s planning committees, calls for 212 luxury apartment villas, a hotel, and a network of roads and infrastructure to support the new neighborhood.
In January, the ILA published a tender for the project, which allows private contractors to bid.
The scenic area is famous for the old stone buildings that are visible from the western entrance to Jerusalem, which were built into the steep hillside by Arab residents in the 19th century.
The petition, filed by former Lifta residents, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Jafra, a Palestinian heritage organization, calls for the courts to freeze the bidding process and the transfer of the public assets into private hands. The court granted a temporary freeze until the project goes to trial to determine if the ILA can go ahead with the bidding process.
“The problem is that the contractors are supposed to be responsible for documentation, and preservation is something that’s very far away from their interests,” said architect Shmuel Groag, a professor of architecture at Bezalel who focuses on building preservation.
Groag was part of a group of architects that had started creating a plan for the Lifta area, which has been under consideration for development for the past 20 years.
Groag added that the process of documenting the village for historical and planning purposes was never completed, though the Israel Antiquities Authority offered to document the area. The state was reluctant to pay, said Groag, and mandated that the contractor that won the bid be required to do the documentation.
“If one of the contractors destroys something inside, no one will know, because no one knows what’s inside of them,” said Groag.
“To try and take shortcuts in the planning processes in a place that’s so sensitive and emotional will no doubt damage the preservation of Lifta,” he added.
The Society for the Protection of Nature and the Society for Preservation of Israeli Heritage Sites, however, said they had no opposition to the project, a popular hiking destination for Jerusalem residents.
“What’s happening now is the houses are getting destroyed by the passage of time,” said Isaac Schweky, the head of the Society for the Preservation of Israeli Heritage Sites.
“[The petitioners] asked us to join but I told them I’m not going to join them. If we don’t build there, won’t be anything left,” he said.
Schweky pointed out that since the area became a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes, the houses have deteriorated faster than ever. Some of the stones have been stolen, causing the buildings to crumble.
The only way to save Lifta, he believes, is to develop it.
But the petitioners claim that in addition to the environmental and historical problems the development project could create, there are political problems as well. Lifta was abandoned by its Arab residents in 1948, and is one of the only such Arab villages that was not destroyed or inhabited by Jews after the War of Independence.
“It’s an issue of how do we see our future. Do we see our future erasing the Arab side, or a future of reconciliation?” asked Daphna Golan, a lecturer at Hebrew University in human rights, who organized the various groups to file the petition.
“We should discuss these issues as opposed to erasing them. It’s part of our history, it’s part of our present. Rather than build housing for rich people, let’s keep it for future discussion for compensation.
We have to keep the past alive in order to have a dialogue.”
Attorney Sami Ershied, who filed the petition on behalf of the coalition of activists and residents, said he was “optimistic” that the courts would honor their request to halt the plan.