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In photos: Hiking the ruins of Lifta

Jan. 3, 2014 4:06 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 6, 2014 9:40 A.M.)
By: Alex Shams
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Lifta is a Palestinian village that was mostly destroyed in 1948.

Today, its ruins lie in Jerusalem's western suburbs, overshadowed by the highways and skyscrapers far above.

In the years following the Nakba, or "Catastrophe," that led to the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in what became Israel, the majority of the more than 400 depopulated villages were destroyed.

This destruction was part of a wider policy of preventing the return of any Palestinian refugees, even those displaced within the borders of the new state.

Lifta is unique in that it is one of the few Palestinian villages that was not completely demolished after its inhabitants fled.

The village remained empty, a testament to its former residents' disappearance, even as Israeli neighborhoods slowly encircled it.

Lifta is one of the few Palestinian villages that remained standing in the area of West Jerusalem after 1948.

Tens of thousands of West Jerusalem Palestinians were expelled or fled in that year, becoming refugees overnight as Israel refused to accept their right to return to their homes and villages.

The village is surprisingly visible, right below several neighborhoods and major roads. It is visited by the occasional Israeli or tourist come to bathe in the village spring, and campers often spend the night in the abandoned homes.

At other times, Palestinian refugees originally from Lifta come through to commemorate the life of a village abruptly ended.

The village's 2,550 inhabitants fled their homes in the months leading up to the establishment of the State of Israel amidst a campaign of terror waged by Zionist militias.

In December 1947, long before war had been declared, the Stern Gang attacked the local coffee shop, killing six. The purpose of such random attacks on Palestinian civilians was to terrorize them until they fled, while at the same time avoiding wholesale slaughter.

This strategy achieved the goal of ethnic cleansing while still allowing many to claim that Palestinians had left of their own free will.

In the following weeks, Zionist militias struck again, besieging the town. Residents who had not fled already were loaded into trucks and summarily dropped off near the Old City in Jerusalem after militias conquered the village.

Following their victory, Zionist militia members vandalized individual houses in order to make them unlivable, and residents were forbidden from returning.

The village was thus depopulated months before the May 1948 declaration of the State of Israel and the war that followed.

Although many buildings were destroyed, a large number of houses as well as the mosque and the social club of the village remain. The alleyways of Lifta's small Old City and the once-luxurious homes of local elites also remain standing.

The refugees of Lifta today number 18,165, spread mostly between the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

They have been prevented from moving back by Israeli authorities, although a few Jewish families have moved into some of the buildings closer to the road.

Several plans have emerged over the years to redevelop the area. The most recent was proposed by the Israeli Land Administration, which sought to build a hotel and 212 luxury units amidst the ruins. Due to a campaign by activists to prevent the move, the plans never passed.

For now, the houses still stand, awaiting the return of their owners.

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