Sunday, December 17, 2006

A tale of two towns

I went hiking last Friday with Jerusalem's Mosaic Club. We were a cozy group and began our trek from Mevasseret Zion, a now-wealthy suburb of Jerusalem, and the place where I began my life in Israel in its absorption center, where the sole occupants now are Ethiopian immigrants (perhaps the only non-well-to-do residents of the place). We passed by burial caves from the 2nd Temple period, and the tour guide explained that only wealthy people dug out their own burial caves and reused them for generations, while the rest buried their dead out in the field.

Our hippie guide apologized profusely for his not excellent English, but I really enjoyed his guiding - as he referred to abandoned settlements as abdomened homes and where the farmers grew weed, instead of wheat, and where we had to squish the red berries with our toes (instead of fingers) - stuff like that throughout the tour. He told us Bedouin tales in one of the caves of female demons and showed us the odd nest that the sunbird built.

Down in the valley between Mevasseret towards Jerusalem, we walked passed the newly built bridges (a sore spot with nature preservers) and highways, and a previously unknown place(to me) called Einot Telem where there was a small Jewish settlement up until the Arab riots of 1929. The soap factory was the only building left standing. Because of the springs, there was settlement there for hundreds of years. Right now there were unsightly water tanks and a big electro-magnetic-field-cellphone-transmitter on the site. We sat in the shade of the back of the former factory, where there has been some recent restoration done on the site to have our lunch.

We walked on the dirt road towards Lifta dodging cement trucks building the new highway fast and furious today. It ruined the serenity of the place.

I was always curious about Lifta, the abandoned Arab village of pre-1948 and in my 11 years here, never had a chance to roam around it.

It has been left abandoned and I was grateful that the picturesque buildings hadn't been razed. The place has a long history and we could peek inside an ancient building to see the Byzantine stones inside.

But don't lean on the walls of these buildings, they are in danger of collapse, warned our guide. Some of the better maintained buildings are now squatted in by hippies, junkies and a drug rehab center. The guide said he wasn't sure if the Arabs left on their own or were forced out in 1948 (I tend to think they were forced out by frequent attacks on them), but I do have an Arab friend who was born there who now lives in Jerusalem. Perhaps I'll one day go with her, if it's not too painful, and get a real tour of the place.

In the early 1950s immigrant Jews from Arab countries were placed there until enough room in the tent cities of that time became available. In 1967 the IDF did practice runs in that village and thus ruined many of the buildings.

The government/municipality doesn't know what to do with the place. One idea was to tear it down and build a shopping mall there (horrible idea), another was to make it into a upscale residence for Jews, another was to make it into an artists village. I think they should renovate it and use it as a tourist site (a living Palestinian village) the way they redo ancient Jewish villages and have descendants of the village guide people around in native dress. I don't see the Israeli government okaying this idea. It's too "political". But I still think it's a cool idea.


Anonymous said...

Yes,that area (Lifta)was known as the waters of Nephtoah on the border between Judah and Benjamin.The Jewish People have a long history in Eretz Yisrael

Katherine said...

You say that one of the ideas is to make it an upscale residence for Jews. Maybe I'm being picky here, but I doubt anyone has plans to make this place a residence place just for Jews. Perhaps you mean they are planning on renovating it and letting people buy homes and come and live there - I think the money will speak louder than whether someone is an Arab, Jew, christian etc. I think it is dangerous to say something like that, as it gives people reading from outside of Israel a bad impression of the place.

another was to make it into a upscale residence for Jews,

jerusalemgypsy said...

I agree with you Katherine that it would be ideal if they would renovate these homes and turn them into residences for anyone who has the money to buy. However, there are very few "mixed" areas in Jerusalem. Even in the Old City - there's the Jewish Quarter, the Moslem Quarter, the Christian Quarter - there are very very (unfortunately) truly mixed communities. There is one that I know of - that is Neve Shalom. Arabs and Jews live side-by-side. But I don't see them marketing a neighborhood in West Jerusalem to "everyone" unfortunately.

sarit said...

Lifta is on an incredibly steep hillside and in the midst of some of the highest density living and building in Jerusalem. I agree that right now its too 'political' to keep all the buildings as a "Palestininan village" but I think we might edge that way by making it first "open space" and a park, and leaving some of the best houses standing (with reinforcement) a la Neot Kedurim--pass it off as a "park" with ruins, and later when peace comes and the anger blows over, then talk the village idea.

What it should NOT be in more buildings.....

Freudian Slip said...

I'm heading out there for a trip in two weeks and your pictures have me so excited!

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