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Lifta

 

BOB ABERNETHY, host: Beneath the Jerusalem hills, near the entrance to the city, are the remains of the former Arab village of Lifta. All of Lifta’s Arab residents fled or were forced out during Israel’s war for independence in 1948. Today, it’s the only once-Arab village in Israel that has not been destroyed or resettled by Jews. Lifta’s former Arab residents want it back. The Jerusalem government wants it developed for luxury housing, and some preservationists, on both sides, want it kept as a monument to what life there used to be. Menachem Daum is an American Jew from Brooklyn. He traveled to Lifta recently to hear all sides of the story.

MENACHEM DAUM: I may have a family link to Lifta. My uncle, Meyer Yosef, a member of the Betar Zionist youth, left Poland for Palestine in 1937. He joined the Lehi militia, also known as the Stern Gang. He was my hero. While the rest of my family were victims during the Holocaust, he was a fighter for the Jewish people.

NECHAMA NUSBAUM (Meyer Yosef’s Wife): He was convinced that Israel was home. That’s what he told his mother when she was crying at the train station when he left Poland. She was crying so much. He said, “Don’t cry, I’m going home.” The Arabs—we didn’t think about them at all.

DAUM: In 1947, my uncle’s Stern Gang and other Jewish militias were fighting Arab forces near Lifta. On December 28, Jewish fighters entered Lifta’s coffeehouse and killed at least five villagers, allegedly in retaliation for an attack on a passing Jewish bus. Fearing for their lives, most of Lifta’s Arab residents fled. None have ever been permitted to return. On a visit to Lifta’s spring I met a group of Israeli youngsters and was curious to hear what they knew about Lifta.

post01-liftaDAUM (speaking to Israeli children): So what about the history of this place?

FIRST GIRL: When we came to capture the land, so they didn’t like Israel so they escaped. They just want to kill us.

DAUM: What would you think if some people who used to live here 60 years ago wanted to come back?

FIRST GIRL: That it’s theirs.

SECOND GIRL: No, that’s ridiculous. It’s our land.

THIRD GIRL: God promised to give the land to us.

DAUM: For most of my life I held the same simplistic attitudes as these girls and until today have never heard spoken to Palestinians to hear their side of the story.

YACOUB ODEH (Former Resident of Lifta): Here was my home. You see these stones? Here was my home. No time I forget when I was playing here.

DAUM (speaking to Yacoub Odeh): Did you have phones here, by the way?

ODEH: No, we are shouting. I want to call my young cousin or uncle, “Mahmoud!” I shout, and he answered me in the same way: “Yacoub!”

post02-liftaDAUM (speaking to Yacoub Odeh): I always looked upon my uncle as a hero. All my other relatives died in the ovens, and he was a fighter.

ODEH: Now my question for you: How do you look on a person kicked you from your house, destroy your life to become a refugee, to be in a tent and in winter cold or in summer hot? I think who steal, who theft your freedom, your dignity, your right to live with your community, and kick you out in a miserable life—no time you will see him a hero. If I do it, sure you will hate me. You will attack me. You will attack me.

DAUM: Yacoub’s description of his village reminded me of the memories that were passed down to me of my ancestors’ destroyed shtetls in Poland. If the development of Lifta goes through, will its Arab heritage and memories also be erased? I went to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet other former residents of Lifta and collect their memories.

MRS. HAMUDDEH (Former Lifta Resident): We had Jewish neighbors and Christian neighbors. We all lived together happily. Our Jewish friends would come to our weddings and parties. The Christians also came. We were like one family.

YACOUB KHALIF (Former Lifta Resident): If they were to tell me now you have the right to go back to Lifta, it would take me one hour. I would walk. I would not even take a taxi or car to go to Lifta. I will walk it, and if I die without getting it back, my children will get it back, my grandchildren will get it back.

post03-liftaJALAL AKEL (Former Lifta Resident): I took all my children to Lifta. I showed them where our house used to be. I showed them everything. Of course, we always tell them there is hope. Even if only for the children of our children, the hope is still there.

You can see those cars? They are exactly up the wadi of the valley of Lifta.

DAUM: So you look here from your roof and you see.

AKEL: I can see, but what can I do?

DAUM: Neither Lifta’s former residents nor their children are likely to return if the government allows Lifta to be developed. Under its plan, the 54 existing ruins will be rehabilitated and sold as villas and will be surrounded by luxury housing, hotels and shops. Proponents of the plan say it will actually preserve Lifta and save it from further deterioration.

ITZIK SHWEKY (Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites): We are not interested in erasing heritage. The plan addresses the heritage of Lifta, to leave the old architecture. We are not building new buildings that will be tall, but will be in the style of old Lifta.

DAUM: Wouldn’t it make symbolic sense to somehow not develop Lifta right now and hold it as a symbolic gesture for some better future?

post04-liftaSHWEKY: I think that you are wrong. I have a different opinion. If I turn it into a monument and say on this site there was an Arab village, that will only lead to hatred and painful memories, because we would then be causing conflict, and then they’re going to say that this is how we once lived and then the Jews came and threw us out. No, I’m not going to do that. We are the State of Israel. We are Jews. We don’t have to save the Palestinian heritage. They will know that it was Lifta, but we are a new nation that has to progress.

DAUM: While some Israelis see the ruins of Lifta as a threat to peace, others believe just the opposite. They want to preserve Lifta as a place of education and hopefully reconciliation.

DAFNA GOLAN (Sociologist, Hebrew University and Lifta Preservation Activist): Lifta is also a village of hope. It can be a place where we can talk about our future, where we can remember the past, where Israelis could see how Palestinians used to live, could understand what it means for Palestinians to lose their houses, what happened to them in 1948. So why destroy this little hope that we still have?

DAUM: My uncle dreamed of a land where Jews could walk the streets proudly as Jews. He saw Arabs as an impediment to that dream. I have come to believe that Lifta is important for Jews as well as for Arabs. If Jewish and Arab youth grow up believing they have always been natural enemies, peace will be impossible. We need to preserve Lifta to challenge the simplistic memories we often pass on to the next generation.

ABERNETHY: Menachem Daum says he has made many trips to Israel, but this was the first time he ever talked with Palestinian Arabs. They all had grievances, he said, but no one expressed hatred of him because he is a Jew. They want to live in peace, they told Menachem. Muslim, Jew, and Christian together the way they used to.

  • Patricia Lynn Morrison

    Thank you to Bob Abernathy for this moving and powerfully objective reporting on Lifta.
    He is truly a mensch in the best tradition of Judaism for his compassion and openness to this rich history and what it means to Palestinians –and could mean to Israelis as well.

    Israel doesn’t need more development, upscale housing and hotels, especially not on the site of former Arab villages. It needs people living together, side by side, without fear and in hope.

    Let LIfta be as it is — a small seed of hope. In time, God willing, we hope the Palestinians can return to their home village and remember a time when Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together in peace. We pray that day can come again….

  • Alice Azzouzi

    What a great presentation. I think if we got to know each other it changes our views of others. They are never much difference than ourselves.

    I hope that Meanachem Daum will come home and try to break the wall here in US that exist because we don’t know each other story.

    I feel God is moving in Israel/Palestine.

    We need to share more of these stories so there can be peace in Israel/Palestine.

  • Dolores Heinze

    Dear Bob,

    I am a loyal fan of your program. Regarding the story of Lifta, here was the perfect opportunity for the Palestinian man who was interviewed by Daum to say “I understand why the Jewish people desired and fought for a land of their own. I have learned about the centuries of anti-semitism that lead up to
    the Holocaust and I know that your people have suffered as we have by being chased out of their homes
    in many countries.”
    Bob, it is only when this kind of empathy is stated, when this kind of understanding takes place, that the future in Israel will become brighter for all its people.
    I actually find it miraculous that the Jewish people came to Israel from the devastation that they left
    behind with an attitude of “not looking back”. Not bemoaning what they lost (which was everything, including
    their families) and forging a vibrant new country!
    Palestinians have been given billions of dollars from many international sources for the last
    60 years. But they seem to remain in a state of “victimhood”, which prevents them from moving forward.

    Is the Muslim population in Israel so unaware of Jewish history? Perhaps that is a program you might schedule in the future. A dialogue between survivors (or their children) and their Palestinian neighbors…
    speaking to and empathizing with each other……realizing their shared histories and what they have in common
    instead of what separates them.

    Sincerely,
    Dolores Heinze

  • myra estelle

    Thank you for your intelligent programming. This was a very moving presentation. Of course it’s really tragic that people have had to leave their homes because of war.

    However, there are two sides to this story, and I only saw one side in this program. I hope that you will devote another program to show what has happened to the housing of many, many Jews who were forced out of their homes in the Arab countries all around Israel. These were the Jews who were also refugees, fleeing from the Arab lands in fear for their lives in 1948.

    There were the same number of Jewish refugees running from the Arab lands into Israel as there were Arab refugees who ran to the Arab states. It’s important to note that while the Jewish refugees were absorbed into Israel as citizens, most of the Arab refugees were not given any citizenship and were kept in the refugee camps, under Arab rule, for close to 20 years, between 1948 and 1967. This, in itself, is a tragedy, and is the main reason that these Arabs still consider themselves as refugees after all this time. They obviously suffered greatly, but a lot of people don’t realize that they suffered under Arab rule during that time.

  • James Kaplan

    Why do we always ask for sympathy for palestinians, yet no one is willing to discuss the Jews being extirpated and removed from Israel by the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottomans? Do you think they left by choice? What about their stories?

  • Elizabeth Rogers

    The whole world needs more pieces like this, that reveal the crying need for overcoming conflict, at grassroots level, so that the understanding of one another’s humanity can gradually spread and influence decision-makers.

  • Georjana Mauldin

    The story is moving – and there are other stories like this – that give hope that Jews and Palestinians can live together. Please remember if you are looking for a Christian there – they would be Paletininian.

  • Georjana Mauldin

    The story is moving – and there are other stories like this – that give hope that Jews and Palestinians can live together. Please remember if you are looking for a Christian there – they would be Palestinian. The United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church offer information on the conflict supporting the original boundaries of the green line and also for stopping additional illegal settlements.

    “Christians are called to initiate and promote better relationships between Christians and Muslims on the basis of informed understanding, critical appreciation, and balanced perspective of one another’s basic beliefs.” (UMC – 2004 Book of Resolutions, “Our Muslim Neighbors,” ¶315)

    The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship continues to collaborate with Christian Peacemaker Teams in their important work striving for peace in the Holy Land and other hotspots in the Middle East. http://presbypeacefellowship.org/israel

  • Georjana Mauldin

    The story is moving – and there are other stories like this – that give hope that Jews and Palestinians can live together. Please remember if you are looking for a Christian there – they would be Palestinian. The United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church offer info on the conflict supporting the original boundaries of the green line and also for stopping additional illegal settlements and the wall.

  • Lois Rogers-Watson

    I am just returned from a visit to Israel and Palestine. This piece reminds of so much that I saw! Here in the USA we are not exposed to full story of lands taken without compensation, of Christian Palestinians who have not been to the Holy City of Jerusalem since 1993, of the cooperative non-violent activities of Jews, Christians, and Muslims who are working for peace. I recommend Mark Braverman’s Fatal Embrace to you. Braverman (markbraverman.org) is an American Jew who, like Daum, came to see things differently after visits to Israel.

  • Malka Shacham Doron

    Well, how is it that I do not want the houses of my family in Rymanow and Krakow – Poland…..many Jews did not get it back all over the jewish history…
    The history is so strang. One day you are in Poland next in Israel, you have so many nice places to go to and live in…. I am the center of my life not the houses I live in… at the end we do not take anything to our graves. You are born from nathing and you end like dust in the wind.

  • Vinita Rodrigues

    As much as I feel great sympathy for the Jews, who have been persecuted for over twenty centuries by Europeans (anti-Semitism seems to be a purely European phenomenon, from my observation) what they have done to the people who lived before them in Israel, is not much better. Two wrongs do not make a right. It is like a child who kicks the dog when her mother has smacked her.

    What gives the Jews the right to return to land that they lived in TWENTY centuries ago? Is there any legal precept for this? I would like to know if there were any property deeds that gave them the right to that land? Or does their suffering entitle them to this land?

    Wouldn’t it have been better, if they had assimilated into the very countries that they came from? If they had antil-Semitic laws, wouldn’t it have been better to change those laws? Why make the Arabs the bad guys and completely absolve the Europeans once and for all ?

    As for this hatred of Jews, because they were Christ’s supposed killers, isn’t that complete rubbish? Wasn’t it the Romans who did the deed? Why are human beings so stupid???

  • Mark Bernadiner

    What will happen, if American Indians deside to return back to their land; what will happen, if Australian Aborigens deside to claim their land back; what ill happen, if New Zealand Miories deside to claim their land back; what will happen, if Gerans deside to cliam Eastern Prussure occupied by Russia back; what will happen, if Argentina claims Falklands back ?

    I think, everybody knows what will happen. They all will be exterminated totally and unconditionally