Lifta is an ancient town located in the outskirts of Jerusalem. The village is nestled within the hills. Houses and shops were once spread out from the top of the mountain and into the valley below. In the lowest part in what was once the town center there is a spring that is still used today by locals. Today most of the remaining buildings in Lifta are unoccupied. About 60 of the original houses remain, with a few that now house Israeli residents. Lifta was once considered to be a wealthy community, where people would come to purchase fabric and embroidery. The area around the spring was once used as a social place, and for special occasions by the residents. The water system running through this town was established by the Romans. The upper pool was used for cleaning while the lower was used for animals. Many people where swimming, and playing in the upper pool area. Residents used to maintain vegetable gardens and fruit trees within the town. Today you can still see many fig trees throughout. During our visit we explored the inside of some of the homes, a mosque, and an olive oil press. The crumbling structures offer a glimpse into how homes where typically constructed in the region, with each new layer built on top of the other as families grew.
Scattered around the area we could see large cacti intended to represent spots where houses once stood. In 1948 about 30% of the Palestinian population lived in cities and towns like this one, with the rest scattered in small farming villages.
During the time of the Nakba a coffee shop higher up on the hill in Lifta was attacked. A nearby Jewish neighborhood claimed they where surrounded and felt threatened by the Arab people. After the attack many moved further downhill into the homes of friends and relatives. The attacks continued forcing more people to flee. A few men remained to protect the town, however they soon realized they did not have enough resources. The land was considered absentee property to allow the state of Israel to claim it. Many of the people left toward Ramallah. There is a small community of people from the town of Lifta living in East Jerusalem today.
Lifta is just one example of what happened throughout Palestine in 1948. The Zionist movement at that time was well prepared for war, but the people living in the region where primarily farmers and not prepared. In June of 1948 in Tel Aviv it was decided that the refugees would not be able to return. Some did try to return home but where prevented. After Israel took the land and properties it was sold to the Jewish National Fund (JNF) who then sold it to incoming residents. About 6%-10% of the land was purchased to sharecroppers who do not live in the area.
Zochrot is an organization formed in 2002, working to preserve the history of the region. Their mission is to promote accountability and responsibility for the ongoing impact created by the Nakba. So far they have created records of 600 of the places that had been destroyed. They have recorded stories from surviving families, created maps depicting where the villages are located and are working on publishing a book for each place.
The map can be viewed on their website, or through the iNakba app for iPhones. The app provides coordinates and information for each village.