The 13th-Century-BCE village is on a list of tentative UNESCO World Heritage sites, but is slated for commercial development.
“It is frozen evidence of the issue of the destroyed villages. That’s why it annoys the Israeli land authority, because they don’t want it turned into a sort of non-official monument for the destroyed villages.”
— architect Shmuel Groag
Near the stone ruins of the home where he says he lived as a boy, Yacoub Odeh laments that his native village on Jerusalem’s hillside may soon be transformed forever.
“I want to come back to my home, to my house, to my village, to my land,” the 77-year-old said.
Lifta, an abandoned former Palestinian village in a bucolic spot at the entrance to Jerusalem, is at the centre of a preservation fight over an Israeli plan to build villas there.
It is a rare example of a village that still exists after its Palestinian inhabitants fled in the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel, though its history extends much farther back in time.
The village, in mainly Jewish West Jerusalem, is on a tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, and the World Monuments Fund organization has put it on its list of sites under threat.
No one lives there anymore, but the remains of stone homes with arched entryways still stand, along with idle olive presses and the ruins of a village mosque.
A natural pool in the village’s center continues to be used for swimming during the sweltering Jerusalem summer, while almond, fig and olive trees dot the surrounding hillsides.
In the face of plans to develop villas, commercial space and a hotel there, a coalition of Israelis and Palestinians have come together to try to preserve it — sometimes for differing reasons.
Palestinians like Odeh who were chased from their homes in 1948 hope to one day have their land back.
Others also want the village to stand as testimony of what happened to Palestinians in 1948 — what they call the Nakba, or catastrophe.