(photo credit: Seth J. Frantzman)
Activists who fought over the past year and a half to save Lifta, the abandoned
village at the entrance to Jerusalem, from development into luxury villas vowed
on Friday to create an “open campus” at the site for in-depth research into the
history and the preservation of the village.
Last Monday, the Jerusalem
District Court ruled that the Israel Lands Authority (ILA) must cancel the
tender for a construction plan for 212 luxury villas on the Lifta site, some of
which would be built over existing stone structures. The court found that the
ILA’s plans to survey the area prior to construction to determine what areas
needed preservation were not sufficient.
Activists were overjoyed by the
announcement. Sami Ersheid, a lawyer who filed the petition to cancel the tender
in March of last year, called it a “historic victory” last week.
Friday, activists gathered to announce their plan to create a multi-disciplinary
approach to researching Lifta. The Citizens’ Committee to Save Lifta, an
umbrella group of concerned activists and organizations, wants to involve
experts from a variety of fields, such as ecology, zoology, archeology,
architecture, oral history, sociology, and history. They hope academics will
collaborate to create a multi-dimensional survey of Lifta, which will be more
comprehensive than an archeological survey of the area.
Ilan Shtayer, the
coordinator of the citizens’ committee, explained that the goal is to learn more
about the history of Lifta as a community rather than just a physical place. The
scenic area is famous for the old stone buildings that are visible from the
western entrance to Jerusalem, which were built into the steep hillside by Arab
residents in the 19th century. The area also has buildings from the First
Temple period and the Crusader period.
After the Arab families left due
to heavy fighting in early 1948, the state moved Yemenite and Kurdish Jewish
refugees into the homes in the 1950s. The Jewish families were evicted in the
late 1960s, though 13 Kurdish families still live in upper Lifta and are facing
eviction. Currently, the area is a beloved park for ultra- Orthodox from the
Romema neighborhood, who have few open areas in their crowded neighborhoods and
use the pool as a mikve.
The “open campus” approach will gather the
stories of all of these communities – Arab and Jewish – to preserve the most
important areas of the village that could be overlooked by a straight
archeological survey, Shtayer explained.
“The ruling gave us time, but it
didn’t change the reality,” said Shtayer. “The project for [new construction] in
Lifta still exists.”
Academics from the Bezalel Academy, the Technion,
Tel Aviv University, and Beir Zeit University in Ramallah have already expressed
interest in research in the area, said Shtayer.
“We’re not looking for a
group of five students; we’re looking to examine every branch of academics,”
said Shtayer. “We think we know how to do a better survey [than the ILA], one
that is much more professional and in-depth,” he said.
According to the
court’s decision, the site must undergo a comprehensive survey of the area with
independent bodies, such as the Antiquities Authority, before the ILA can
republish the tender and find a contractor to build the
project. Originally, the ILA wanted the contractor to carry out the
survey. This angered activists, who argued that the private contractors
would not have the best interests of the site in mind and would be financially
motivated to preserve less of the area.