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Deserted homes on the hillside
Deserted homes on the hillside
Etymology: Lifta, personal name[1]
Historical map series for the area of Lifta (1870s).jpg 1870s map
Historical map series for the area of Lifta (1940s).jpg 1940s map
Historical map series for the area of Lifta (modern).jpg modern map
Historical map series for the area of Lifta (1940s with modern overlay).jpg 1940s with modern overlay map
A series of historical maps of the area around Lifta (click the buttons)
Lifta is located in Mandatory Palestine
Location within Mandatory Palestine
Coordinates: 31°47′43″N 35°11′47″E / 31.79528°N 35.19639°E / 31.79528; 35.19639Coordinates: 31°47′43″N 35°11′47″E / 31.79528°N 35.19639°E / 31.79528; 35.19639
Palestine grid168/133
Geopolitical entityMandatory Palestine
Date of depopulationJanuary 1948[2]
Repopulated dates1948–2017 by Jews
 • Total8,743 dunams (8.743 km2 or 3.376 sq mi)
 • Total2,958
Cause(s) of depopulationMilitary assault by Yishuv forces
Current LocalitiesWestern suburb of Jerusalem
Lifta in relation to Jerusalem in the 1870s
Lifta spring

Lifta (Arabic: لفتا‎; Hebrew: ליפתא‎) was a Palestinian Arab village on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The village was depopulated during the early part of the 1947–48 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine.

In July 2017 Israel declared Lifta (called Mei Neftoach) as a national nature reserve.[4]


Biblical identification

The site is considered by some to be identical with biblical Hebrew: מי נפתוחMei Neftoach. It was populated since ancient times; "Nephtoah" (Hebrew: נפתח, lit. spring of the corridor) is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the border between the Israelite tribes of Judah and Benjamin,[5] and was the northernmost demarcation point of the territory of the Tribe of Judah.[6][7]

Iron Age

Archaeological remains dating as far back as Iron Age II have been found in the village.[7][8][9]

Roman and Byzantine periods

The Romans and Byzantines called it Nephtho, and the Crusaders referred to it as Clepsta.[10]

Crusader period

The remains of a court-yard home from the Crusader period remains in the centre of the village.[11]

Ottoman era

In 1596, Lifta was a village in the Ottoman Empire, nahiya (subdistrict) of Jerusalem under the liwa' (district) of Jerusalem, and it had a population 72 Muslim households, an estimated 396 persons. It paid taxes on wheat, barley, olives, fruit orchards and vineyards; a total of 4,800 akçe. All of the revenue went to a waqf.[12]

In 1834, a battle took place here, during the revolt of that year. The Egyptian Ibrahim Pasha and his army fought and defeated local rebels, led by Shaykh Qasim al-Ahmad, a prominent local ruler. However, the Qasim al-Ahmad family remained powerful and ruled the region southwest of Nablus from their fortified villages of Deir Istiya and Bayt Wazan some 40 kilometers (25 mi) due north of Lifta.[13] In 1838 Edward Robinson noted Lifta as a Muslim village, located in the Beni Malik area, west of Jerusalem.[14][15] Robinson hired muleteers from Lifta, noting that in Lifta "every peasant keeps his mule and usually accompanies it".[16]

In 1863 Victor Guérin described Lifta as being surrounded by gardens of lemon-trees, oranges, figs, pomegranates, alms and apricots.[17] An Ottoman village list of about 1870 indicated 117 houses and a population of 395, though the population count included men, only.[18][19]

The PEF's Survey of Western Palestine in 1883 described it as a village on the side of a steep hill, with a spring and rock-cut tombs to the south.[20]

In 1896 the population of Lifta was estimated to be about 966 persons.[21]

British Mandate era

In 1917, Lifta surrendered to the British forces with white flags and, as a symbolic gesture, the keys to the village.[22]

In the 1922 census of Palestine, Lifta had a population 1,451, all Muslims,[23] increasing in the 1931 census (when Lifta was counted with "Shneller's Quarter"), to 1,893; 1,844 Muslims, 35 Jews and 14 Christians, in a total of 410 houses.[24]

During the 1929 Palestine riots inhabitants of the village actively participated in the robberies and attacks on nearby Jewish communities.[25][26][27]

In the 1945 statistics the population of Lifta was 2,250; 2,230 Muslims and 20 Christians,[28] and the total land area was 8,743 dunams, according to an official land and population survey.[29] 3,248 dunams were for cereals,[30] while 324 dunams were built-up (urban) land.[31]

Lifta 1945
Lifta 1945

Prior to 1948, the village had a modern clinic, two coffeehouses, two carpentry shops, barbershops, a butcher, and a mosque.[7]

In the 1947–48 Civil War in Mandatory Palestine Lifta, Romema, and Shaykh Badr which were strategically located on the road leaving Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv, were an operational priority for Jewish forces. Lifta was told by Arab leadership to evacuate its women and children in order to host a military company, and on 4 December 1947 some Arab families left.[32] By mid-December irregular Arab militia took up positions in Lifta to defend the site and to harass adjacent Jewish areas. Hagannah patrols engaged in firefights with the village militiamen while Irgun and Lehi were even more aggressive. On 28 December, following a machine-gun and grenade attack on a cafe in Lifta or Romema[a] that left seven dead, more women and children left the village. The village was suffering from food shortages in the beginning of January. Subsequently, a number of the villagers returned home, with Benny Morris reporting "some, or most" doing so. Subsequently, Abd al-Qadir al-Husayni, while visiting the village, ordered the women, children and elderly to evacuate and the men to stay put. On 29 January, a Lehi raid blew up 3 houses in the village. By early February the village was abandoned by the irregular militia. Benny Morris lists the cause of the depopulation of the village as being a military assault on the settlement.[2]

State of Israel

Lifta was used for Jewish refugee housing during the war, and following the war the Jewish Agency and the state of Israel settled Jewish immigrants from Yemen and Kurdistan in the village, totaling 300 families. However ownership of the houses was not registered in their name. Living conditions in Lifta were difficult, the buildings were in poor repair, poor roads and transport, and lack of electricity, water, and sanitation infrastructure.[8][7][33][34] In 1969-71 most of the Jewish inhabitants of Lifta chose to leave as part of a compensation program by Amidar. Holes were drilled in the roofs of the evacuated buildings to make them less inhabitable, so that squatters wouldn't take up residence. 13 families, who lived in the portion of the village close to Highway 1 and didn't suffer from transportation issues chose to remain.[35]

In the 1980s, Lifta was declared a municipal nature reserve under the auspices of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.[36][37]

In 1984, one of the abandoned buildings in the village was occupied by the "Lifta gang", a Jewish group plotting the blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount, who were stopped at the gates of the temple mount with 250 pounds of explosives, hand grenades, and other armament.[38][39]

Following the departure of the Jewish residents, some of the buildings in the village were used for Lifta drug abuse rehabilitation center for adolescents, which was closed in 2014,[40] and from 1971 for the Lifta high school, an open education school, which relocated to German Colony, Jerusalem in 2001.[41]

View of Lifta, 2011

In 2011, plans were announced to demolish the village and build a luxury development consisting of 212 luxury housing units and a hotel.[42] Former residents brought a legal petition to preserve the village as a historic site.[43] Lifta was the last remaining Arab village that was depopulated to have not been either completely destroyed or re-inhabited.[42] In 2012, the plans to rebuild the village as an upscale neighborhood were rejected by the Jerusalem District Court.[44]

By 2011, three books about the Palestinian village history had been published.[45]

In June 2017 the last Jewish residents left the village following a settlement with the government who acknowledged they were not squatters but rather resettled in Lifta by the appropriate authorities.[46] In July 2017 Mei Neftoach was declared a national nature reserve.[4] 55 out of 450 pre-1948 stone houses are still standing.[47][7]


In 2010, an archaeological survey was conducted at Lifta by Mordechai Heiman on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA).[48]

Arab traditional dress

Lifta was among the wealthiest communities in the Jerusalem area, and the women were known for their fine embroidery[49][when?] Thob Ghabani bridal dresses were sewn in Lifta. They were made of ghabani, a natural cotton covered with gold color silk floral embroidery produced in Aleppo, and were narrower than other dresses. The sleeves were also more tapered. The sides, sleeves and chest panel of the dress were adorned with silk insets. The dresses were ordered by brides in Bethlehem.[50] The married women of Lifta wore a distinctive conical shaṭweh head-dress, that was also worn in Bethlehem, Ayn Karim, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour.[51][when?]

Notable people

See also


  1. ^ Palmer, 1881, p. 322
  2. ^ a b Morris, 2004, p. xx, village #363
  3. ^ Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics Archived 12 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine also gives village area
  4. ^ a b According to the law of nature: four new reserves in Israel, Yisrael Hayom, 4 July 2017
  5. ^ Maisler, Benjamin (1932). "A Memo of the National Committee to the Government of the Land of Israel on the Method of Spelling Transliterated Geographical and Personal Names, plus Two Lists of Geographical Names". Lĕšonénu: A Journal for the Study of the Hebrew Language and Cognate Subjects (in Hebrew). 4 (3): 51. JSTOR 24384308.
  6. ^ Nephtoah Bible Dictionary
  7. ^ a b c d e Lifta and the Regime of Forgetting: Memory Work and Conservation, Daphna Golan, Zvika Orr, Sami Ershied, Jerusalem Quarterly, 2013, Vol. 54, pp 69-81
  8. ^ a b Lifta Documentation and Initial Survey (in Hebrew), 2013, Israeli Antiquities Authority]
  9. ^ Lifta, Archaeological Annex to Development plan, 2003 Israeli Antiquities Authority
  10. ^ Heritage conservation in Israel: Lifta
  11. ^ Pringle, 1997, p. 66
  12. ^ Hütteroth and Abdulfattah, 1977, p. 115. Quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p. 301
  13. ^ Khalidi, 1992, p. 301
  14. ^ Robinson and Smith, 1841, vol 3, Appendix 2, p. 123
  15. ^ Robinson and Smith, 1841, vol 2, p. 140
  16. ^ Robinson and Smith, 1841, vol 2, p. 321
  17. ^ Guérin, 1868, pp. 252-256
  18. ^ Socin, 1879, p. 157
  19. ^ Hartmann, 1883, p. 118, also noted 117 houses
  20. ^ Conder and Kitchener, 1883, III:18. Quoted in Khalidi, 1992, p. 301
  21. ^ Schick, 1896, p. 126
  22. ^ Gilbert, 1936, pp. 157-68
  23. ^ Barron, 1923, Table VII, Sub-district of Jerusalem, p. 14
  24. ^ Mills, 1932, p. 41
  25. ^ Halamish, Aviva (1994). ירושלים לדורותיה [Jerusalem through the Ages] (in Hebrew). Open University of Israel. p. 83. ערבים מכפרי הסביבה - ליפתא, דיר יאסין, עין כרם, מלחה, בית צפאפא, צור באהר וסילואן - ובדווים ממדבר יהודה תקפו בנשק חם את שכונות הספר היהודיות של ירושלים [Arabs from the surrounding villages - Lifta, Dir Yasin, Ein Karem, Makcha, Beit Tsfafa, Tsur Baher and Silwan - and Bedouin from the Yehuda desert attacked the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem with guns]
  26. ^ Eliav, Binyamin, ed. (1976). היישוב בימי הבית הלאומי [The Settlement in the Days of the National Home] (in Hebrew). Keter Publishing House. p. 38. לאחר דין ודברים עם השוטרים הותר לקבוצת ערבים מכפר ליפתא לחזור לכפרם דרך רחוב יפו. בהגיעם לרחוב פתחו הליפתאים מיד בשוד החנויות ובפגיעות ביהודים [After discussion with the police, a group of Arabs from Lifta was allowed to return to their village via Yaffa Street. Once there, they right away started looting the shops and attacking Jews]
  27. ^ Dinur, Ben Tzion, ed. (1964). ספר תולדות ההגנה [The Haganah Book] (in Hebrew). volume 2 part 1. Maarachot. p. 316. וקבוצה אחת בפיקודו של המוכתר מליפתא עלתה על גג והמטירה אש על רחוב יפו [and one group under the command of the Mukhtar of Lifta rained down fire on Yaffa Street]
  28. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics, 1945, p. 25
  29. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 57
  30. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 103
  31. ^ Government of Palestine, Department of Statistics. Village Statistics, April, 1945. Quoted in Hadawi, 1970, p. 153
  32. ^ Morris, 2004, pp. 119-120
  33. ^ Jerusalem 'Squatter' Discovers That His Home Is Rightfully His, Ha'aretz, 10 February 2012
  34. ^ The Kenesset discusses eviction of Lifta residents: "the immigrants from Arab countries were called squatters and the Kibutniks - settlers" (in Hebrew), TheMarker, 25 January 2016
  35. ^ from Settlers to squatters - the classification of residents in absentee property as squatters is injust, Lifta as an example (in Hebrew), Black Labor, Yoni Yochanan, 11 September 2016
  36. ^ INPA Raises Lifta Security to Prevent Willow Theft, Jerusalem Post, September 19, 2011
  37. ^ Mei Neftoach (Lifta) (in Hebrew Archived 28 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine, Mapa, encyclopedia entry
  38. ^ Discourse and Palestine: Power, Text and Context, Annelies Moors, page 133
  39. ^ Ground Zero: Jerusalem, Holy War, and Collective Insanity, Jerry Kroth, page 131
  40. ^ Despite the economic improvement, Drug rehabilitation center for adolescents in Lifta to close (in Hebrew), Haaretz, 22 May 2014
  41. ^ Lifta High School: History Archived 10 July 2017 at the Wayback Machine, Lifta High School
  42. ^ a b "Israel moves to turn deserted Palestinian village into luxury housing project", Haaretz.com, 21 January 2011.
  43. ^ Knell, Yolande (30 May 2011). "Legal battle over an abandoned Palestinian village". BBC. Retrieved 30 May 2011.
  44. ^ Court rules against demolition of empty Lifta homes
  45. ^ Davis, 2011, p. 30
  46. ^ Defeated in Court, Lifta's Last Families to Leave Their Jerusalem-area Homes, Ha'aretz, 22 June 2017
  47. ^ Esther Zandberg,Unofficial monument to a decisive time in history, Haaretz.com, 25 November 2004; accessed 2 September 2015.
  48. ^ Israel Antiquities Authority, Excavators and Excavations Permit for Year 2010, Survey Permit # A-5974
  49. ^ Woven legacy, woven language Archived 19 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine, Saudi Aramco World, Volume 42, Number 1.
  50. ^ Stillman, 1979, pp. 42, 44 (ill.)
  51. ^ Stillman, 1979, p. 37
  1. ^ Some sources place the cafe in Lifta (Morris 2004), and some in Romema (Krystall 1999) - which are adjacent to each other


External links