Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Lift, Lifta

(This was written via my personal blog last year)
Last year, a group called, “1948 Lest We Forget,” filed an application to the World Monuments Fund (WMF) for Lifta, a Palestinian village, to be included on the 2012 World Monuments Watch list. The reason the WMF were chosen was because they’re an independent organization (registered as a charity in New York) who require no national or state endorsement for nominations. They are linked to the saving of many historical and treasured places in the world.

Research was carried out by the group- Lifta’s history, architecture, cultural and social character and they had, “found it to be an embodiment of everything Palestinian.”

However, Lifta’s history is being somewhat hidden behind its very own domed roofs.

Lifta is the only Palestinian village that has been left as it was before the Zionist war in 1948, when 500 Arab villages throughout Palestine were demolished by colonial Zionists. The now depopulated Lifta was built by its own inhabitants, who constructed, “cube-like buildings,” topped by the well-known domed roofs. The domed roofs were made from the “single natural material that the inhabitants employed”- The Special Jerusalem Stone. The community had built their houses without hindering the natural beauty of the area or destroying the gentle hills- the houses had looked and felt like it belonged there. Many of the homes remain intact to date, in view of the speciality of the Jerusalem stone. The village itself dates back to biblical times of Muslims, Christians and Jews living harmoniously.

Lifta was occupied in 1948, one of the main strategic reasons being that it was in close proximity to Jerusalem. Both Muslim and Christians were evicted from their homes by use of, “brutal, racist tactics,” and the Jews given place to stay, thereby achieving the Zionist goal of ethnic cleansing.

Currently, the few inhabitants are Jewish, but most of Lifta has been kept deserted by Israeli authorities. In an attempt to stop the original owners from claiming their land, squatters, drug dealers and gangs have been roaming the area destroying the domed roofs of the houses. Lifta now faces demolition by private developers at the hands of The Israel Land Administration (ILA) who will eventually rid this village off any Palestinian history and memory. The ILA’s plans include a, “building of 212 housing units exclusively for Jews, a luxury hotel, a shopping mall and a museum.” In addition to the current efforts of driving the original occupants away from attempting to claim their homes, the redevelopment is also in aid of totally nullifying any potential efforts made by the depopulated at getting their homes back. They were evicted, and by law, no longer hold the right to return to their land- they cannot gain citizenship nor return to their homeland.

Daphna Golan, a Professor of Law at the Hebrew University described the move as being primarily political, having a face of rejuvenation in an ‘abandoned village.’ “It is a building plan geared towards erasing the past,” she says. “In other words, serving to continue the process of judaization of the land- a policy which aims to eradicate Palestinian history, memory and presence.”

The museum, if built, confirms some claims that ILA plans are, “aimed at seizing the identity and completing the Judaization process of the last remaining Palestinian village,” as the museum will only display Jewish history. Adding more to the attempt at wiping Palestinian history out, is the ILA’s designation of Lifta’s cemetery as “public land” in the plan, allowing it to be used as land for future construction in time to come.

Why is Lifta important, really?

Lifta is politically important, above the obvious architectural, social and cultural reasons. Politics played a part in the “formation and evolution” of Lifta’s architecture. After being rejected by the WMF, 1948 Lest We Forget questioned if it was for Lifta’s political history, that they were de-classified off the Watch List. The group had posted this regarding their attempt at getting Lifta on to the Watch List:

“Lifta, without doubt, is considered a “hot potato” because it is as much a symbol of the Palestinian tragedy as it is a physical manifestation of it. Could it have been, we tried to guess, Lifta’s “political” dimension which de-classified it from the Watch List?

In order that a future re-nomination of Lifta may be attempted, it was important for us to get an absolute understanding of the reasons why Lifta was de-selected in order that we

may avoid derailment in the future. We spoke to Avrami at the WMF and, after a brief discussion, we asked her, “was the decision to exclude Lifta a political one?” The answer came in an email about two weeks later and it confirmed our worst fears:

“The Watch nomination for Lifta village incorrectly located the site in the Palestinian Territory, when it is in fact within the current borders of Israel [our emphasis]. Factual inaccuracies are something taken into consideration in the review and selection process.”

It is worth repeating here that our application was accepted and validated back in February and there were no questions raised at the time, or since, about Lifta’s geographical location. Our application had clearly showed Lifta’s coordinates on the map which accompanied the application and positively placed it inside the Corpus Separatum zone designated by the 1947 Partition Plan under UN Resolution 181.

As the reason for disqualifying Lifta is seen now to be its geographical location and not necessarily the other criteria, we felt that we were about to be embroiled in a debate on an

issue which sits at the core of the Israel-Palestine question.

For the sake of historical correctness, we had no choice but to rely on international conventions to safeguard Lifta from physical oblivion. An extract of the UN Resolution 181 Partition map was sent to the WMF with another map showing the UN designated are of Jerusalem and its environs within the Corpus Separatum international zone. Lifta sat comfortably inside that zone, and as the WMF response emphasized “the current borders of Israel,” we also sent the WMF another extract of the UN map showing the 1949 Armistice Lines which wrapped around West Jerusalem and the village of Lifta at the cessation of hostilities.

We explained that these lines are exactly what they were meant to be according to international legal definitions: “Armistice Lines represent where the hostilities between the parties ceased until the warring parties reach final agreement.” This is in accordance with international law and the Geneva Convention.

In its response dated 1 November, the WMF wrote:

“World Monuments Fund is a private, not-for-profit organization that undertakes the World Monuments Watch as part of advocacy work on behalf of heritage around the world. We are not an intergovernmental organization that must abide by international conventions …” (emphasis).

However, the WMF is part of the United Nations, listed under the “Official Relations” section of UNESCO. By definition, therefore, it is required to respect international law (“UNESCO - World Monuments Fund).

But as is usually the case at the UN, rights take a back seat to politics. The US State Department’s “Diplomacy In Action” section created the US Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, which has donated over $2 million to the WMF. In view of the fact that the US has punished UNESCO for admitting Palestine as a member on 31 October 2011, the political link between the State Department funding and the WMF cannot be underestimated.”

They further stated that the village’s fate seemed to be directly relevant to the organization’s work:

“Bonnie Burnham, the WMF’s president, in a 2006 interview with the National Trust for Historic Preservation: “Time, war, and politics are destroyers of monuments. Which is the biggest threat? In a global context, unquestionably, the biggest is war. In addition to destroying buildings, armed conflict destroys the entire national capacity to deal with heritage” (“The Short Answer: Bonnie Burnham”).

If the WMF was prepared to address that threat, surely it would be acting to save Lifta.”

If the ILA’a plans are approved, a Jewish community will thrive in Lifta, a Palestinian place that neither belonged to them nor given to them, but stolen from Palestine- history and land. The early biblical depiction of harmony and peace between Christians and Jews may never be remembered, but the prevalence of the colonial Zionist regime will always be remembered.

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