Monday, July 04, 2011

Fire burns outside J'lem in abandoned Arab village of Lifta

07/04/2011 20:35

Firefighters struggled for hours to control a fire in the abandoned Arab village of Lifta, located at the entrance to Jerusalem. Heavy smoke in the area disrupted traffic on the highways leading toward Jerusalem.

Firefighters were aided by a helicopter, which relayed information about the fire's movement. A total of 30 dunams (7.5 acres) were burned. Firefighters evacuated four homes in the area, as well as a number of youths squatting in the abandoned houses. An investigation was opened into the cause of the blaze.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some good news...

Today, on the 11th May 2001, I got the news that Judge in the Israeli courts did not approve the Israeli Land Administration's (ILA) attempt to begin the bidding process to sell of the lands of Lifta. The Judge requested that there should be a survey for the village taking into conseration the opinion of the Israel Archaeological Department. The Judge asked the ILA to halt any further process or the decision would be taken against them; and then gave the ILA two weeks to respond to the suggestion.

In the short while, the possibility of a survey will slow down the pace of activities pursued by the ILA. It may encourage further investigation into the conservation planning for Lifta however it may still not over-ride the regional planning of this place; possibily a mediated alternative outlook instead.

Nevertheless, this will give my organisation - Belonging, the necessary time needed to develop their proposal for a long-term plan for Lifta in consideration to be alternatively planned as a place of conscience. And with regional and international advocacy allow us to sustain the campaign to make such an attempt.

Today was a good day for Lifta, lets hope we can say the same tomorrow...

To find out more about Belonging's vision for a long-term plan for Lifta please copy & paste the link below or read the Saving Lifta article below the last post:

Anil Korotane, director of Belonging

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Film Extract - The Lifta Controversy

This film extract by award-winning film-maker and friend Menachem Daum gives an oversight into the current controversy concerning Lifta whilst depicting Menachem's very own personal journey and investgation through his connection to Lifta. Menachem's uncle was possibly one of the members of the Stern gang militia who drove out the inhabitants of Lifta during the 1947/48 Nakba catastrophe. Menachem seeks to inquire into his initial simplistic views of what happened during the period that led to the creation of Israel, and through his family connection to Lifta, encounter what value this place holds to all still touched by her presence.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Saving Lifta

By Anil Korotane

(This article on 'Saving Lifta' originally features in the May 2011 edition of the magazine 'This Week in Palestine'. 'Al Quds, A Living History' is this month's theme. The article will highlight the strategy currently pursued by Belonging's (an architecture, planning and humanrights organisation) attempt to devise a long-term strategy for Lifta and how it may be possible.)

Lifta, a Palestinian village inside Israeli territory, sits within a valley adjacent to and below the Jaffa Road on the northwest perimeter of Jerusalem. The village suffered the same fate as many Palestinian villages that were ethnically cleansed in 1947-48 during the Palestinian catastrophe, Al Nakba. Remarkably, a large proportion of the architectural antiquities that characterise the village still remain standing today. Lifta has evaded total erasure because her surrounding landscape, set within a valley, is virtually cut off and sunk beneath the surrounding civilisation. She has stood obscurely now for over 60 years and so far, no conquest has physically re-contextualised the place. Her unique circumstance, created out of these consequences, has led her to become a space of captivation, necessity, and privilege.

Now, however, the valley has been given an incarnation under the approved plan to transform the village into a commercial edifice allocated under the guise of “Mei Naftoah”-also known as Plan 6036. The redevelopment plan has been approved on and above Lifta, and will disregard any association of the memory of the village. It will appropriate her cultural heritage through architecture and planning that will re-invent the identity of the valley landscape. The Mei Naftoah approved plan will consist of a commercial centre with shops, hotels, bus stations and the development of 212 luxury apartments.

In January 2011, the Israeli Land Administration (ILA) announced a tender for Plan 6036, allowing private contractors to begin to bid and triggering the process to sell off Lifta’s plots of lands. This announcement provoked immediate reaction amongst former Palestinian descendants of Lifta (many of whom now reside in East Jerusalem), as well as Israeli and Palestinian conservationists and NGOs. This reaction led to a petition and resulted in a temporary court injunction issued on 7 March 2011, ordering the ILA to freeze the tender. Now a struggle commences forming solidarity amongst regional professionals and organisations. Opponents to Plan 6036 have appealed for Lifta’s recognition with UNESCO, the Worlds Monument Fund, and other agencies. Along with media campaigns and protests held more or less every fortnight by second and third-generation descendants of the village.

This is all promising in the short term, however there is a need for a long-term strategy that will clearly define the significance and necessity of this place. I have been involved on a research project-campaign concerning saving Lifta since 2006. And from this research, I shall highlight a long-term strategy. To begin with, what does it mean to save this place, and what significance does she bare for the region?

By saving Lifta, I posit that we are trying to protect a place that still exists in the form of a bond. “Memory” with respect to Lifta is the essence of the place; she is bare, without people telling their stories and affirming their union to the place. Recognition of the existence of this bond also means recognising cultivation, a history and a tangible reality.

A place with a history prior to 1948 and located within a territory of the governing power of Israel, Lifta sits inside a surrounding context identifiable by another historical narrative. For the two identities to sustain a shared value, an identifiable relationship, there has to be a reason. Situating Al Nakba into a revised historical narrative of the surrounding context is likely to create controversy and can easily be perceived as an historical problem. So how does it become possible to resolve this crisis of values?

For Israel, Lifta is a place needing enquiry for the purposes of practising self-reflection and self-reappraisal. Lifta allows the nation-state to have a space to contest, understand, and respond to the origins of the Israel/Palestine conflict. Taking aside the significance of memory relating to a catastrophe and an historical origin perpetuating “otherness,” the memory of Lifta also embarks upon a history of a different societal pattern and practice of space. Before the events of 1948, the village had a tribal community with a population consisting of around 3,000 people. Lifta was a place that embraced a strong sense of an ethnically and religiously diverse community of Muslims, Jews, and Christians. There was no inequality amongst this diversity, so there was never any conceivable idea of segregation.

Lifta’s traceable history prior the Palestinian Nakba and the creation of the modern State can begin to allow us to look beyond the symbol of the “other.” She sustained ethical values that can be deemed as necessary within in the current regional context of society. Recognition of this truth and quality can influence the possibility of allowing this heritage, traditionally perceived as belonging to the “other” existential narrative, to become admissible in the region. Lifta still is a traceable genealogy that gives insight into the origins of the conflict, and these issues are fundamental to the process of understanding, tangibly engaging and reconciling conflict. Emphasis of civil equality also enhances the opportunity of contesting other issues represented by this place to become more tolerable.

Upon reflection, the uprooting of the village was a tragedy for the Palestinian community of the village, however, the community encompassed multi-ethnic groups. Al Nakba in Lifta was a catastrophe for the Palestinian Muslims, Christians, and Jews. There is historical evidence that gives reason to believe that this event encompassed a discord for all ethnic groups associated to it. They provide a significant opportunity for suggesting alternative outlooks and views that can influence the working of a new narrative, a new history, and a new space. Exploration of memory can become paramount in creating and enabling mechanisms to defuse the attitudes that translate into a language of adversity and dissonance of the differing existential beliefs.

Taking on the question of justice concerning Lifta requires vision for long-term interventions. We can discuss the safeguarding and preservation of Lifta, or the United Nations Resolution 194 and its poignant regard to the Palestinian “right of return.” Yet there seems to be no significant answers of how to connect the past with the present. I believe an attempt should be made to construct a proposal for Lifta to be realized as a “Site of Conscience.” The role of the International Coalition for Sites of Conscience is to “interpret history through historic sites; engage in programs that stimulate dialogue on pressing social issues; promote humanitarian and democratic values as a primary function; and share opportunities for public involvement in issues raised at the site.”

My organisation, Belonging, is an architecture, planning, and human rights organisation that will carry out this investigation. We acknowledge that actively challenging discursive discussions on the environment is a necessary stepping-stone for creating the imaginings of utilities that stride towards supporting the changes needed for peace. The purpose will be to demonstrate why the heritage of Lifta is potentially invaluable and necessary for future peace in the region and the potential of Lifta’s space as a place for conciliatory dialogue.

Through a process of dissecting and illuminating the chasms of Lifta’s historical landscape, we will engage in and assert why this place has the potential to harbour such a proposal. A potential gateway to space-seeking to confront and reconcile narratives of histories, otherness, and conflict, whilst demonstrating possibilities of a place that promotes healing, pluralism, and inclusiveness.

Engaging in the memory of Al Nakba, in this instance from a place that has remained virtually desolate and un-appropriated since her uprooting in 1948, provides the backdrop for a real space within the Israel/Palestine region that has the capacity to make accessible an open dialogue, encountering a sense of shared values through the issues of “displacement,” “victimhood,” and “tragedy.” These are themes that resonate not only throughout the Palestinian narrative since 1948, but are also historically preserved and ever-present within the narrative of the Israeli “other” (for instance the Holocaust and the displacement of Arab Jews in the North African and Middle East region). Sharing and building upon multiple common themes and reaching beyond rivalry.

Lifta is a place that can challenge and defuse narratives that translate into a language of opposition or even hostility by presenting and addressing common themes shared in the tragic histories by both peoples. The narratives of displacement, shared together at Lifta, can create this place into a necessary common ground for the purposes of healing and conciliation, as well as drawing upon the potential of this place for the purposes of invaluable capacity-building for the regional civil society.

Conducting further research into Lifta’s memory and juxtaposing truths can possibly allow further contestable narratives and introduce new possibilities for the reconstruction of heritage. A heritage that can allow an acceptance of truths that can bring together both sides of the conflict to share the same grief and hope and re-evaluate relationships for the sake of the regional community.

Saving Lifta is only likely to be achievable if she asserts values that are inclusive in her objective of becoming recognized as a place. And a desire towards a monument that can convey new meaning and understanding as well as offer alternative capacity building can prove invaluable. A vision for an attainable value through the reconstruction of heritage; aiming to bridge worlds together by creating mechanisms out of a bond between memory and place.

Anil Korotane is an activist architect and director of Belonging: Follow up-to-date news on the Saving Lifta project-campaign here: and the Facebook group: Saving Lifta.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blowback: Israel's bogus narrative on Palestinian refugees

Los Angeles Times - Ghada Karmi April 12, 2011

Ghada Karmi, author of "In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian Story," responds to The Times' April 7 article on Lifta, the last intact pre-1948 Palestinian village. If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

What a timely article, “Israel and Palestinians have conflicting visions for village's future.” April is a good month for recalling the abandoned homes, towns and destroyed villages of what was once Palestine. It was the month in which my own family was forced to leave our home in Jerusalem. Contrary to the official Israeli version, still largely believed, that the Palestinian exodus of 750,000 people -- without which there would be no Israel today -- happened in the fog of war, people like me are living proof that many of us had been forced out of our homeland months earlier.

The Israeli version claims that during the 1948-49 Arab-Israeli war, the Palestinians fled, as happens in wars everywhere, or were panicked into leaving by their leaders. For more than 60 years, this has served to absolve Israel of its culpability for that tragedy.

In fact, between January and May 1948, thousands of us were already leaving because of the violence and the deliberate tactics of the Jewish leadership intent on creating an empty space in which to erect a state. As a child, I remember seeing a poor Bedouin man walking down our street shot dead by Jewish snipers from an empty house opposite ours.

The people of Lifta (the village that The Times features), which is just three miles from my old neighborhood in west Jerusalem, were already fleeing in December 1947. The Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah and the Stern Gang, a Jewish dissident group, attacked the villagers with guns and hand grenades. By February 1948, most houses on the edge of the village had been demolished; the inhabitants fled in terror.

The same fate was intended for Katamon, where we lived. Increasing attacks on our street and its vicinity had the same desired effect as in Lifta. After January 1948, when the Semiramis Hotel on a street near ours was bombed by the Haganah, killing 26 people (a nightmare of horror that I dimly remember), the attacks against our neighborhood escalated. Families started leaving, fearful for their children and believing it would be a temporary evacuation. By the time we left, hardly any of our friends remained. The increasing danger around us forced my parents to leave. We took nothing with us, convinced it would not be long before we returned.

Terrible as this was when I look back, at least our street and our house still stand today. They were taken over by Jewish settlers and underwent various changes, but they largely remain. Yet I do not know which is worse: the hundreds of Palestinian villages Israel wiped out after 1948 and whose previous inhabitants can only hope to find through faded memories; the dozen villages left such as Lifta, still standing but ruined and depopulated; or, as in my case, my house being in the possession of strangers (New York Times correspondent Ethan Bronner lives in an upper story added on later), who do not recognize my history or my right to my family home.

On setting up its state in 1948, Israel set about demolishing every vestige of Palestinian life and history in the land. The physical destruction of the villages, the replacing of Palestinian names with Hebrew ones and the wholesale takeover of Palestinian culture, whether in food -- "Israeli falafel" -- or in the traditional Arab dabke dance, renamed the Israeli "hora," were all aimed at making the world forget there had ever been anyone other than Jews in the Holy Land.

Through the work of Israeli filmmaker Benny Brunner, I have discovered another refinement of this cultural theft: the takeover of private Palestinian book collections, including ours. After 1948, Israeli officials took what books they found from abandoned Palestinian homes. Tens of thousands were looted in this way. Some of them remain in the Israeli National Library today, designated abandoned property. Brunner is currently making a film of this, "The Great Book Robbery."

Palestinians have never accepted our enforced oblivion. We are fighting to tell our history, win a future of political freedom and secure the return of refugees forced from their homes and never allowed to return. For these reasons, the battle to preserve Lifta must be won -- its remains a physical memorial of injustice and survival.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Palestinian Refugees Act to Save Jerusalem’s Lifta Village from Destruction

Tuesday, 29 March 2011 16:35 Shadi Rohana, Alternative Information Center (AIC)

“This is not just a construction plan- they want to erase our memory,” architect and Lifta refugee Nasser Abu-Lel told local and international media today [29 March] in East Jerusalem regarding the Israel Land Administration’s plan to build a luxurious residential and commercial zone on the remains of his village in West Jerusalem.

“The Israeli plan targets what remains of the houses we were forced to leave in the Nakba of 1948; the stones and walls that echo the daily life of our own parents, before the Zionist gangs forced them to leave.”

The proposed decade-long project, which the Israeli Land Administration now wishes to implement (plan number 6036), was issued following Jerusalem Municipal approval of the construction of 268 housing units, one hotel and a number of community institutions on the site of the Palestinian village of Lifta. Following the court petition to save Lifta that was submitted by various organizations Lifta refugees on 6 March, the Israeli court issued a temporary injunction on selling lots on the site.

The press conference this morning to protest the plan was organized by the Sons of Lifta Society, an organization that gathers refugees from Lifta and their descendents in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Speakers at the conference included the Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Hussein, Fatah’s Jerusalem Affairs Liaison Hatim abd al-Qader, representatives from the Sons of Lifta Society and refugees from the village, as well as Attorney Sami Arshid, who represented Lifta refugees and other organizations at court.

Arshid told reporters that his petition to the court was the culmination of work done on the ground by various Palestinian and Israeli organizations, architects, planners and other individuals since approval of the plan by the Jerusalem Municipality. “Our goal was modest and simple,” Arshid said, “we claimed in court that these lands and house have owners and they are still alive, whether in East Jerusalem and the West Bank or in exile, and that if Israeli law prevents them from fulfilling their property rights at this moment, this should not mean that the law is to consider their property rights as gone forever.”

Regarding the decision to go to an Israeli court to prevent the demolition of Lifta, Arshid said: “the decision was not easy. The Israeli law regards Lifta’s lands and buildings as ‘absentee property,’ something Palestinian refugees everywhere cannot accept. However, we managed to overcome this challenge by basing our demands on historic property rights.”

Yacoub Odeh from the Land Research Center and himself a refugee from Lifta, spoke about the measures already taken to save his village. According to Odeh, Lifta refugees in Palestine and exile are already contacting international bodies, including UNESCO, the EU and UNRWA, calling on them to protect Lifta’s land and houses. “It is our right to return to our land, rebuild our village and plant trees for the next generations, not those who wish to come here from abroad to build villas and hotels on our land. We will continue to hold on to our right as people of Lifta and as Palestinians; we are an integral part of the Palestinian people and Lifta is an integral part of Palestine.”

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Lifta society is organizing a press conference on Tuesday 29th about the current situation on Lifta. As well as a march to Lifta on the 1st of April.

Press Conference:
Date: Tuesday 29/03/2011
Location: Ambassador Hotel - Sheikh Jarrah

24 March 2011

A court case is pending concerning the future of Lifta, a Palestinian village which is located both in West and East Jerusalem. Lifta has been targeted by the Israeli Land Authority for the development of a Jewish luxury residential/commercial neighbourhood. The plan will lead to the destruction of the place. The court ruling will decide whether the refugees of Lifta, who were forced to the leave the village in 1948, can keep their property, heritage, culture and memory. The people of Lifta have obtained a freeze on the processing the call for tender, through a petition, to the central court.

On the 6th March, Attorney Sami Arshid submitted a petition on behalf of Lifta Society and Jerusalem activists and Urban planners to object to the unlawful sale of the property of the Lifta refugees to the private sector. On Monday the 7th, Israeli Judge Yigal Marzel issued a temporary injunction ordering the Israeli Land Administration to freeze publication of the results of the tender to sell off plots of land. If these plots do get sold off new construction begins it will be impossible to preserve the history, heritage and culture of the people which will be lost forever under a wave of new construction.

A whole village is running the risk of losing its property and the people of Lifta need as much support as possible in order to save the village and raise the profile of their case and prevent the loss of their village forever.

Lifta Society
Cell phone no: 0522 872840