“THE RUINS OF LIFTA”—- What Happened

“The Ruins of Lifta”

What Happened to Lifta

Amos Lassen

Lifta is the only Palestinian village that was abandoned during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that has not been destroyed or repopulated by Jews. The land and its buildings are at the western entrance to Jerusalem, and Lifta is a beautiful place (I did some of my IDF army duty nearby). While Lifta has such beauty and a wonderful history, it is not a place that tourists visit and I feel sure that many do not even know that it exists. Today, Lifta is threatened by an Israeli development plan that would convert it into an upscale Jewish neighborhood and change its character forever. With the support of the Palestinian and Jewish “Coalition to Save Lifta”, the town has become a battleground between developers, the Israeli Land authority, and its defenders. The unique history and architectural treasures of Lifta have made it a candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage site if it attains certain Israeli government approval.

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In this new documentary, filmmakers Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky introduce us to Lifta and to the conflict that revolves around the underpinnings of the Holocaust and the Nakba (the Palestinian exile of 1948). It all begins with filmmaker Menachem Daum’s parents’ experiences during the Holocaust. This perspective has deeply influenced Daum’s views of non-Jews, the Polish people, and Palestinians. He is an Orthodox Jew who grew up among Holocaust survivors and began questioning the narrow views of his community. Here he sets out to examine those views by establishing a personal relationship with a Palestinian. He first meets Yacoub Odeh, who was expelled from Lifta in 1948 and now leads the struggle to save the ruins of his village from Israeli plans to build luxury villas on the site.

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When Daum, learns that Lifta was once a place where Jews and Palestinians got along, and that his own loving and revered uncle might have been involved in Jewish militia attacks on Lifta, he searches for family members as well as Israeli and Palestinian witnesses and historians. These include Benny Morris, Hillel Cohen and Palestinian lawyer Sami Arshid. He also meets members of the “Coalition to Save Lifta” including Yacoub, Daphna Golan and Ilan Shatyer and tries to decide to join Yacoub’s campaign with Dasha Rittenberg, a Holocaust Survivor in New York who is a close friend. In a move at reconciliation, he sets up a climactic encounter between Dasha and Yacoub among the ruins of Lifta.

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Rudavsky and Daum present this unique story as a microcosm of the Middle Eastern conflict, with brutal honesty and compassion. Rudavsky shares that, “Through an open discussion with some of the most thoughtful inhabitants of the land, we have sought to impart what we have learned to a wider public.”

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