SAVING LIFTA – A CASE AGAINST ARCHITECTURAL ERASURE
This is a plea against architectural erasure and the destruction of memory While Israel proudly preserves its biblical heritage and archaeological sites, the rich Palestinian heritage is being allowed to disappear or is deliberately destroyed.
A poignant example, and an important symbol of this is the 4000 years old village of Lifta, which lies just outside Jerusalem, the nearest Arab village to the Jerusalem wall. It has been abandoned and has remained relatively untouched since the creation of Israel. T he Israeli army and the Irgun killed or drove out the last Palestinian inhabitants in 1948. Today Lifta is more or less a ghost town , frozen in time. The former villagers live mainly in East Jerusalem, Ramallah, Jordan and in exile in the United States.
Now, however, a renovation project by the architect Gabriel Cartes of the Groug-Cartes firm, which collaborated with Ze'ev Temkin of TIK Projects, aims to turn Lifta into an expensive and exclusively Jewish residential area, mainly for Americans. The planned neighborhood would include three hundred luxury flats, a large hotel, a big mall, and a large tourist resort. In the process of carrying out the scheme, hundreds of Palestinian homes, all of which predated the creation of Israel in 1948, would be erased to obliterate any reminder that the area was once a prosperous Arab village – erasing its Palestinian history in the process. Architecture is being used to eradicate ethnic culture, that amounts to cultural vandalism.
Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine are supporting the Israeli group called FAST (Foundation for achieving Seamless Territory) in a campaign to preserve Lifta. The Israeli organizations Zokhrot and BIMKOM have also opposed this Israeli real-estate plan.
T here is an ongoing ban on ‘internal refugees’ to return to the remnants of their destroyed villages. The Lifta masterplan does not refer to its Palestinian past. In this effort, architecture is being used as a political device to further Israel’s colonial policy.
Despite its international significance in an area important to three world religions, and its undoubted claim to be a world heritage site because of its timeless landscape, Lifta was never recognized by international institutions (like UNESCO) as a cultural heritage monument, due to Israel’s refusal to recognize Palestine as a nation .
The “Or Commission” report, which investigated the causes of the riots by the Israeli Arab population in October 2000, is quoted in the written objection filed by BIMKOM in their original defence of Lifta. "The role of the state is not reduced to material matters alone," it states. "Governing authorities must find ways that will enable Arab citizens to express in public life their culture and identity in an appropriate and respectful manner."
We ask that Liftah is retained as a ruin to be a reminder of its past or it should be allowed to be re-inhabited by survivors or descendants of the original residents. In either case they should be consulted. Four generations later the descendants are still protesting for the right to return.
Yakub Odeh, a Lifta refugee says:
“ Land ..that is designated for residential use should be planned such that it will be appropriate for the housing of the original residents of Lifta and their descendants, whose property was taken from them through no wrong of their own. This would enable the purchase or return of the land to them, and would constitute a rectification of the wrongs done to the place and its residents, and not only provide land to people of means who never had the slightest connection or link to the place."
“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. 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.”
Esther Zandberg said in Haaretz in November 2004, when the plan was first presented: “the construction plan that has been under discussion since 1996 is a cause for wonder with regard to why it was ever commissioned. On such a emotionally charged and politically symbolic site, with terrain conditions that are difficult for modern construction, on a site on which the development of road, water or sewage infrastructure would require immense technological effort and heavy monetary expenditure, in a landscape in which any intrusion could be the source of perpetual regret, and on land on which there are no real estate pressures that might have provided an easy excuse, the plan seems opposed to all common sense, harmful to the interests of all of the parties on both sides of the conflict, and perhaps an attempt to conceal evidence of the existence of a people living in a "country without a people."
In conclusion, Dafna Golan Agnon a prominent Israeli sociologist from the Hebrew University:
“It is possible and proper to develop Lifta as a village that preserves the historical Palestinian memory of the place. Preserving the memory of the village and its history could be a focal point for reconciliation between Jewish and Arab citizens, and offer an experience that helps lead to a solution of peace with our neighbors.
In a country that sanctifies memory, erasing Palestinian history is not only immoral, it is also foolish. We will not be able to build a future worthy of the name here if we erase and deny the memory of thousands of Palestinian refugees. It is possible to take their homes and erase their villages from the face of the earth, but as we know from Jewish history, longing for the roots and memories of homes is preserved for many hundreds of years. It is still possible to preserve the village, repair its buildings and turn it into a place of study of the past, forming a basis for dialogue about a common future of Israelis and Palestinians.”
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