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Home al-Majdal The ICJ Ruling on the Wall (Autumn 2004) Wiping Away the Traces, Zochrot asks Interior Ministry to Stop Lifta Development

Wiping Away the Traces, Zochrot asks Interior Ministry to Stop Lifta Development

Written by  Ron Wilkinson

 By the end of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, some three quarters of a million Palestinians had been uprooted and become refugees in what was left of Arab-held Palestine or neighbouring countries. Most of them were from small villages, some 500 villages, which today are parts of Israeli Jewish communities, empty and abandoned, planted with trees and crops or paved over as parks. Plans were even made to turn a mosque on the seafront of Tel Aviv into a shopping centre. Today there is little trace of a vibrant Palestinian life which once filled these communities.

Israel continues to erase the memory of Palestinian residency and land ownership in historic Palestine. The latest example is the village of Lifta, five kilometres from the centre of Jerusalem. The plan for Lifta is to build a residential neighbourhood and commercial area on lands that held an Arab Palestinian village until 1948. Lifta was built on a steep hill on the edge of the Jerusalem-Jaffa highway.

 Zochrot, the Jewish-Israeli organization, founded in 2002, which promotes recognition of the Palestinian Nakba by Israel and its residents and the acceptance of Israel’s role in the creation of the Palestinian refugees, has filed an objection against the plan with the Israeli Ministry of Interior’s Regional Committee for Building.
The village had a mosque, a few shops, a school for girls founded in 1945, an elementary boys school, two coffee house and a social club. Lifta had strong economic ties with Jerusalem where its farmers marketed their grain, vegetables and fruit.
Today the village’s Arab residents are gone. Lifta is a Jewish suburb of Jerusalem. The first shots were fired against the village by the Jewish para-military organization Haganah in 1947. One of the coffee houses was attacked on 28 December with a toll of six killed and seven wounded. 
Most Arab residents then fled from the town to Jerusalem, other cities in the West Bank and further a field. By 7 February 1948, David Ben-Gurion later Israel’s first prime minister expressed his satisfaction with the emptying of the village.
Houses on the eastern edge of the town were demolished in January 1948. Ruins of some houses and the mosque remain. Other homes were restored by Jewish residents who began moving in after the clearing out of Palestinian Arab residents.
Further reading:
Jerusalem 1948—The Arab Neighbourhoods and their Fate in the War, Salim Tamari (ed.). 2nd Revised Edition. Jerusalem: Institute of Jerusalem Studies and BADIL Resource Center, 2002. The book includes a number or references to Lifta.
All that Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948. Walid Khalidi (ed.). Washington, DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992.
Interview with Zochrot founder Eitan Bronstein, “Palestinian and Israeli Debate about the Nakba and the Right of Return,” al-Majdal, Issue 19, pp. 20-22, September 2003.
 Village partly repopulated by Jews
When Jews began moving into some of the homes of refugees from Lifta and many of the other 500 destroyed villages, historical events were presented in a way to make it appear that the Palestinian residents had freely and willingly abandoned their villages, says Zochrot. “This physical and cultural reconstruction of the past obscures the reality of the pain and the depth of the Palestinian refugee problem which stands as the primary obstacle to reconciliation between the two nations.”
In its petition to the Ministry of the Interior, Zochrot says: “The houses of Lifta, some of them badly damaged, are still standing. Although many of the village structures are in ruins, they remain a monument to the war of 1948 in which most of the Arab villages were conquered and their residents became refugees.” The new construction, says Zochrot, “will erase the significance of the village as an important memorial site to its refugees, some of them living in the Jerusalem area”.
Palestinian refugee issue ignored
The existence of the plan to build a new neighbourhood in Lifta, says Zochrot, ignores the Palestinian refugee problem that resulted from the expulsion in 1948. “It rejects, in practice, the right of refugees to return to their homes according to international legal principles and basic human rights. The State of Israel is obligated, by its acceptance to the United Nations in May 1949, to carry out Resolution 194 recognizing the right of refugees to return. Any reconstruction and repopulation of the village by Jews will exacerbate the future difficulties of resolving the problem of the Palestinian refugees.”
It asked the Ministry to reject the proposed building plan and leave the remains of the village as they are. In addition, it asks for the preservation of the cemetery and the Lifta mosque. It also notes that the planners did not try to contact the refugees from Lifta who could help by providing information for the preservation work. Zochrot offered to locate them, “the legal and true owners of the land” to assist with preservation. 
Disrespect to original residents
The transformation of the village center into a commercial and residential area, Zochrot says, is particularly disrespectful. “[T]hey exploit the aesthetic nature of Arab buildings and roads, [while] they fail to acknowledge the individuals who built, inhabited and made use of these structures. The plan to construct a synagogue in the area, emphasizes the fact that this plan, as others before it, aims to Judaize the area and not (as alleged) to preserve it, [and] must be cancelled.”
Zochrot suggests maintaining the village as a memorial site that will educate the public about the history of 1948 as long as Palestinian refugees are unable to return. Such education is a precondition for bringing about reconciliation between the two peoples. When sites are preserved, there is a requirement to prepare a document on the preservation. This, says Zochrot, should include the Palestinian history of the village, in order to recognize the Palestinian history in the area.
The current planning document on access and parking for residents’ cars may be rational from the planning perspective but “in practice it prevents the refugees of Lifta from visiting their village. Carrying out this aspect of the plan will further impair the relationship between the refugees and their village”.
Zochrot notes that the remains of the village of Bir’im in the Galilee are part of the Bara’m National Park which visitors may visit if they pay a fee. Internally displaced Palestinians from Bir’im are exempted from the entry fee and can visit their village freely.
Zochrot activities
Since its founding, Zochrot has engaged in a number of activities to recognize the Palestinian Arab past of what is now Israel. This included erecting signs in al-Majdal (now Asheklon) and other Palestinian towns with the original street names of the town, obtaining recognition by Tel Aviv University of the original builders and owners of its club house and the land on which the university is built and general awareness-raising among the Jewish Israeli public of the real history of the country. The organization also regularly organizes visits to destroyed and depopulated Palestinian villages throughout the country.
Zochrot says the building of houses in Lifta will show Arabs that Jews do not understand or respect Arab history and the Arab tragedy. They will see that Jews are not willing to preserve the “memory of the Arab past in this country”. The building plan in Lifta, says Zochrot, will erase the existing traces of this village.     
It concludes its objection to the building plan by asking that the plan not be carried out and that the remains of the village be left “as they are.”
The Lifta Society, which includes refugees from the village, has also filed an objection to the building plan.
For more information on Zochrot, contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Also see the Zochrot website:
Ron Wilkinson is a media consultant for BADIL.
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Ron Wilkinson

Ron Wilkinson

Ron Wilkinson is a past media consultant with BADIL

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