By Joan Mas Autonell
Jerusalem, Jul 26 (EFE).- The village of Lifta sits perched on the valley slopes overlooking the western fringe of Jerusalem, a time capsule that is practically untouched since its Palestinian residents were expelled in 1948.
Dozens of traditional stone houses, some in ruins, still stand among the overgrown vegetation above one of the main highways leading into Western Jerusalem, the Israeli section of the holy city.
Although bereft of inhabitants, Lifta is a symbolic testimony of the Palestinian history in the region. One that Israel has tried to erase since its founding 73 years ago.
A GHOST VILLAGE
“I would like to come back to my home, to live in my home without occupation,” Jakob Odeh, a Palestinian who was born in Lifta in 1940, tells Efe as he walks through the ghostly streets of his hometown.
He was forced to leave when he was just eight years old, the age he became a refugee.
Lifta was once home to around 2,500 people.
Its spring nourished the village and the surrounding valley slopes were fertile, dotted with olive trees and vegetable plots.
Its location by Jerusalem’s city gates, at the end of a main travel route connecting the city with the Mediterranean Sea, made it a strategically important place of passage for travelers.
Lifta’s origins go back 2,000 years but life in the village was upended in April 1948 when the local Palestinian inhabitants were forced out by the constant pressure and attacks of militant Zionists.
The Zionists were trying to exert as much control over Jerusalem as possible before the withdrawal of British armed forces, which brought an end to the British Mandate in Palestine (1922-48) and foreshadowed the creation of the State of Israel and the Palestinian exodus, or Nakba, “catastrophe” in Arabic.
During the Nakba, around 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes.
A SYMBOL OF THE EXODUS
“They kicked all of us from our village,” Odeh says.
He is now a resident of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem but for years he led tours of Lifta to tell others of its story. He knows every nook and cranny of his desolate hometown.
He points out the house where he was born and mentions the name of the families that once lived in the houses that are still standing.
“None of the people from Lifta remained here. All of them were kicked out,” he says.
“We thought that the next day we would be coming back, so we didn’t carry anything.”
More than seven decades later, he visits Lifta every week, fighting for its preservation.