Lifta to make way for Jewish holiday homes
Jonathan Cook reports on plans by Israel to demolish the Palestinian village of Lifta, near Jerusalem, in order to build holiday homes for wealthy foreign Jews and to erase for Israelis “all troubling reminders of an earlier Palestinian presence”.
On a rocky slope dropping steeply away from the busy main road at the entrance to West Jerusalem is to be found a scattering of ancient stone houses, empty and clinging precariously to terraces hewn from the hillside centuries ago.
Although most Israeli drivers barely notice the buildings, this small ghost town – neglected for the past six decades – is at the centre of a legal battle fuelling nationalist sentiments on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.
Picking his way through the cluster of 55 surviving houses, their stone walls invaded by weeds and shrubs, Yacoub Odeh, 71, slipped easily into reminiscences about the halcyon days in Lifta.
He was only eight years old in January 1948 when the advancing Jewish forces put his family and the 3,000 other Palestinian villagers to flight.
Over the coming months, as the Jewish state was born, they would be joined by 750,000 others forced into exile in an event that is known by Palestinians as the nakba, or catastrophe.
Despite the passage of time, Lifta’s chief landmarks are still clear to Mr Odeh: the remains of his own family’s home, an olive press, the village oven, a spring, the mosque, the cemetery and the courtyard where the villagers once congregated.
“Life was wonderful for a small child here,” he said, closing his eyes. “We were like one large family. We played in the spring’s waters, we picked the delicious strawberries growing next to the pool.
“I can still remember the taste of the bread freshly baked by my mother and coated with olive oil and thyme.”
The village not only occupies a unique place in Mr Odeh’s affections. It has also come to symbolize a hope of eventual return for many of the nearly five million Palestinian refugees around the world.
In the words of Ghada Karmi, a British academic whose own family was forced from their home close by, in the Jerusalem suburb of Katamon, Lifta “remains a physical memorial of injustice and survival”.
The reason is that Lifta is the last deserted village from 1948 still standing in modern-day Israel.
More than 400 other villages seized by Israel were razed during and after the war of 1948 in what historians have described as a systematic plan to make sure the refugees had no homes to return to.
Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian who examined the 1948 war in his book the Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, has termed the villages’ destruction an act of “memoricide” – erasing for Israelis all troubling reminders of an earlier Palestinian presence.
The destroyed villages’ lands were used by the new state either to build communities for Jewish immigrants or to plant national forests, said Eitan Bronstein, spokesman for Zochrot, an Israeli group dedicated to teaching Israelis about the nakba.
A handful of other Palestinian communities, such as the old city of Jaffa and Ein Hod near Haifa, survived the wave of demolitions but were quickly passed on to new Jewish owners to be reinvented as artists’ colonies.
Source and full article: Redress Information and Analysis, 6 July 2011