World Monuments Watch
Jerusalem, Israel

2018 World Monuments Watch

Lifta is a site without a parallel in the Eastern Mediterranean. A traditional Palestinian village, it is the only settlement that was not repopulated or destroyed after the eviction of its residents in 1947-1948. Instead, it survives as a ruin, on a steeply sloping site along the road leading to Jerusalem from the west. Narrow paths wind among ruined stone buildings, built on terraces that are now overgrown with flowering trees and shrubs. The roofs of the buildings are formed by large groin vaults, a vernacular echo of Jerusalem’s Crusader Architecture. Below the ground lie unexcavated archaeological remains of earlier periods of occupation of the site, the earliest reference to which dates from the thirteenth century BC. For these reasons, in 2015 Lifta was added to Israel’s Tentative List of sites to be proposed and considered for inscription on the World Heritage List.

Yet, for over a decade, Lifta has been menaced by a redevelopment plan that would destroy most of the surviving structures and replace them with luxury housing and shops. The only concession to history would be the restoration of Lifta’s mosque, and the preservation of the cemetery where the ancestors of modern-day Liftawis are buried. And while access to a sacred spring – identified with the Biblical waters of Nephtoah – would be maintained, the experience of bathing in the small pool would no longer be the same. The plan generated immediate objections from architects, planners, preservationists, environmentalists, and the descendants of the former residents of the village.

In 2012, advocates succeeded in convincing the Jerusalem District Court that the land underneath Lifta should not be transferred for redevelopment until a heritage survey had taken place. The survey, which was carried out by Israel’s Antiquities Authority and is the largest of its kind to date, was completed in 2016. In spite of its findings, proponents of the redevelopment plan continue to seek the approval of local authorities to proceed. The 2018 Watch calls for the rejection of the redevelopment plan and for the protection of Lifta as a rare place of heritage, recreation, and memory for the benefit of all citizens of Jerusalem.

Last updated: October 2017.

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