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Last-ditch effort to save a unique Palestinian village

Lifta, the best-kept out of handful of remaining Nakba villages, will be demolished to make way for a housing project for affluent Jews


The ruins of Lifta, a Palestinian village near Jerusalem (photo: Ester Inbar)

The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites is joining the campaign to save the remaining houses of the Palestinian village Lifta, at the western entrance of modern Jerusalem. Lifta, the best-kept of hundreds of abandoned Palestinian villages, is about to be demolished in order to make way for a new Jewish neighborhood.

According to a report by the daily paper Maariv, Itzik Shviki, manager of Jerusalem district in the Society, has filed a motion to the Jerusalem municipality. “The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites is demanding from the municipality of Jerusalem and from the Interior Ministry to create a [preservation] plan for upper Lifta,” Shviki told Maariv. “Most of the historical homes that are under the threat of demolition should be included in a comprehensive plan for preservation and development. And all current zoning plans should be stopped.”

Lifta is one of the few remaining Nakba villages, whose residents were deported or fled during the war of 1948. Israel has prevented the Palestinians who left their homes from returning to them, and when the war ended, it confiscated their lands and property.

Almost all of the hundreds of empty Palestinian villages were destroyed after the war and in subsequent decades. In Lifta, 55 of more than 400 hundred homes survived, together with the original cemetery, vineyards and a pool that collects rainwater. Because nobody lived in Lifta, it was left undeveloped. Except for the damage caused by time, tourists and homeless people who occupied some of the empty homes, parts of the village remain as they were left by the Palestinians who lived there more than 60 years ago, making it a unique historical site.

Recognizing the special value of Lifta led Israel to declare the village and its surroundings a natural reserve.

In 2004, a new zoning plan removed the special protection from Lifta. Plan No. 6036, approved in August 2006, designates the land for the construction of 268 housing units (an extremely small number, suggesting they are intended for a more affluent population), a hotel and commercial areas.

The new Lifta plan was approved by all the necessary planning authorities, but the sale of lots on the site was stopped after a court petition was filed by various organizations, including representatives of refugees from Lifta, Israeli-Palestinian civil society organizations and Rabbis for Human Rights. The motion is still being heard by the Jerusalem District Court.

Further reading:

Lifta Society: Articles, photos and updates on the campaign to save Lifta.

Why do Jews need to talk abour the Nakba
(my article from last Nakba Day).

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    1. Ari

      Well, if they’re already gonna let people live there, shouldn’t the original Lifta-ites just be allowed to return? Hell, maybe some of them have money these days making them just as attractive citizens as the possible affluent jews.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Deïr Yassin

      Pictures from Lifta, one of the richest villages in Palestine, and one of the most beautiful too. Of course the State of Israel is eager to get rid of these ruins, testifying that neither was it “a land without people for a people without land” not were the Palestinians a bunch of poor, illiterate savages ….

      Here’s a picnic at the famous pool – also used as a mikveh – in the ethnic cleansed village. I wonder if these people don’t care but then again, that’s maybe what “Jewish self-determination” is all about….

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    3. Palestinian

      @ Ari , we are called Liftawis or Liftaweyeh(plural) , several families of Lifta are wealthy (not my family :S), such as Siam(the Liftaweyeh not other Siams) , Shannak , Sa’ed ,members of Odeh family (again the Muslim Liftaweyeh)
      I think if Israel doesnt want the village to exist to erase the history of the people who used to live there, then at least keep a historical panoramic village in Jerusalem ,which thousands of Israelis visit and spend a shiny day there.People pay money to have such kind of a village , Israel already has it for free.Modern buildings wont be as attractive as these simple houses , its not worth it.As we say in Arabic, Wallah Haram !!!

      Reply to Comment
    4. pazmayim

      I agree that this empty village should have continued to be protected. if new dwellings are to be erected ample space should be left to leave the protected site intact.

      However, over the years I have not read any history that says Israel removed or deported the original owners from their homes, so I feel that part of the article to be misleading.

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    5. AYLA

      I am heartsick. If Israel needs a twelve step program to recovery, we aren’t even at step one, admitting we have a problem. If we were–if we were behaving as a nation with any sense of self-awareness and willingness to look at our brokenness–the destruction of Lifta would not be possible. So much would not be possible.

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    6. Ben Israel

      Well, all the Lifta fans out there must be glad that the Jews returned to Gush Etzion “to preserve its original character”. Same with the Jewish community in Hevron. Hopefully, Jews will return to Gaza City and Kfar Darom in Gush Katif (a pre-1948 settlement).

      Reply to Comment
    7. Who's a settler

      If this would have happend in the West Bank, everybody would have been opposing it as illegal settlements, while other settlements and displacement continue inside the Green Line.

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    8. Jalal

      My maternal grandparents are originally from Lifta, non was (And still is) able to even get a permit to visit Jerusalem for one day although they live less than 20 Km away.

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    9. AYLA

      @Jalal–thank you for sharing about your family; very poignant. I was just talking to a friend last night about what it was like for Jews here when they couldn’t enter Jerusalem. Sometimes, this all seems so hopeless to me. And other times, I have this nearly childish flash of how simple it should be… how simple it IS, if we could only stop operating from reactive places of pain. (not that those reactions aren’t understandable and justified. Just. What if we could take a huge step back… it’s possible that the answers are so much more simple than we think. and thinking is part of our problem).

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    10. AYLA

      to all the Ben Israel’s out there. Exactly. So. Why don’t we use the pain of how it feels to be evicted from our homes, our land, to have our memory erased, in order NOT to cause that pain for anyone else, rather than to justify our hurtful actions? AND, why not see the preservation and education of *all* history here as in everyone’s interest? How can we have empathy if we don’t even know each other’s stories? How powerful would it be if Israel made it a priority to preserve Lifta? And to do everything in its power to allow everyone who wants to visit Jerusalem–ESPECIALLY those who deserve the much greater right to return–to do so?

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    11. Deïr Yassin

      @ Pazmayim
      “I have not read any history that says Israel removed or deported the original owner from their homes, so I feel that part of the article to be misleading”

      Well, Noam actually writes “Lifta is one of the few remaining Nakba villages whose residents were deported OR fled during the war of 1948”.
      If you look at the link to palestineremembered that I posted further up, you’ll see that Lifta was in fact one of the first Palestinian villages to be attacked by Zionist gangs. The Stern or Irgun gunned down 6 Liftawis in the coffee house in December ‘1947.
      I don’t have access to any of Benny Morris’ books right now, but Ilan Pappe describes the ethnic cleansing of Lifta in his “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine”.
      ‘Lifta Village Project – Oral History’ has lots of hour-long interviews (in Arabic) with Liftawis telling the Nakba.

      The Gush Etzion settlements were established in the late 1920’s by immigrants and not by Jewish inhabitants of the Old Yichuv. The same goes for Kfar Darom.
      Comparing the destruction of Gush Etzion with the destruction of more than 400 Palestinian villages, some going thousands of years back, or the expulsion of the inhabitants of Lifta is simply intellectually dishonest.

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    12. AYLA

      @Deir (and everyone)–I’m looking to read just a few books in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the history here. A friend recommended Sari Nusseibeh’s book, “Once Upon a Country”. What do you think of this book AND what do you recommend?

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    13. Avi

      I wondered many times on route from J-lem to Tel-Aviv what those buildings were, so beautiful and untouched place. Cannot even imagine a sterile , modern quarter replacing that piece of history. I just wish the original Liftawi families may get their property back.

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    14. RichardNYC

      factual question: I remember reading somewhere else that the development plan called for preserving the buildings within a larger high-end commercial/residential space. Is this not the case? Are they really going to demolish the buildings?

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    15. Ben Israel

      It’s no wonder the Zionist groups attacked Lifta, it is right next to the main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway which was under constant attack by Arab gangs which caused the Jewish population of Jerusalem to be under siege for months.

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    16. ToivoS

      The state of Israel has been actively erasing any evidence that another people lived in Palestine before the Zionist arrived. I guess it is only natural that they will erase Lifta from the pages of time. As an outsider, I just watch these actions with a sense of awe.

      However they do bring to mind a trend in Salafi Muslim tradition. The destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan was directly linked to the Salfi influence on the Taliban. More recently these same religious forces are destroying historic buildings inside Medina and Mecca for the same religious reasons.

      It is really quite amazing to see how modern Zionism is mimicking the most reactionary Muslim forces on this planet in trying to erase past history by destroying evidence of previous communities.

      Reply to Comment
    17. @RICHARDNYC As You can see in one of the links, there was an idea to include some of the original homes in the new plan. According to most of the material I saw while writing this piece, this is not the intention right now, and in any case, this was by no means a preservation of Lifta, but I would say the opposite: a use of its aesthetics to register more profit in the new project.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Deïr Yassin

      @ Ayla (Off-topic for the rest of the readers)
      Yes, Sari Nussetbeh’s book is good, though it’s a personal/political memoir, but he has a very good insight. Other autobiograhies that I recommed are Ghada Karmi: ‘In Search of Fatima: A Palestinian History’ and her ‘Married to Another Man: Israel’s Dilemmea in Palestine’.

      Also Sirine Husseini Shahid’s: ‘Jerusalem Memoir’ (she’s a member of the Husseini-family and the mother of Leila Shahid.
      Hatim Kanaaneh: ‘A Doctor in Galilee: The Life and Struggle of a Palestinian in Israel’. He has a blog too, a wondeful writer, and a humanist. Raja Shehadeh: ‘Palestinian walks: Forays in a Vanishing Landscape’. Ibrahim Fawal: ‘On the Hills of God’.

      Of Palestinians historians, I recommend Walid Khalidi, Rashid Khalidi (Obama’s ‘former’ friend), Nur Masalha and also Sami Hadawi: ‘Bitter Harvest’, a classic.

      Israeli historians: everything by Ilan Pappe, but in order not to be accused of manipulating you 🙂 Pappe is an anti-zionist, and left Israel due to academic pressure, he’s a One Stater. So is Avi Shlaim, considered the best historian on the ’48-war and professor at Oxford. Baruch Kimmerling, Benny Morris (in his first books before he turned Likudnik, and drew drastical conslusions. In fact he was an honest historian for years who wrote great books on the Palestinian exodus all while in private he regretted that Israel didn’t totally expel all Palestinians into Jordan).BM’s ‘The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem’ from 1989 is a monument, but NOT the revisited from 2003, influenced by his turning right-wing.

      Norman Finkelstein’s “Image and Reality of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” and why not his “Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History”.
      And of course the regretted Edward Said: ‘The Question of Palestine’ and a book he edited ‘Blaming the Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question’ with contributions from Noam Chomsky, Ibrahim Aby-Lughod and other prominent academics.

      I’ll stop in order not to monopolize the thread but there are so many more that I would recommend. You better ask Ben Israel and Bosko too to have some right-wing balance. I’m a One Stater, and so are most of the people I recommended (not Morris who’s a Jewish-Only One Stater).

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    19. Palestinian

      @ Ayla , I recommend you visiting alive Liftawis who witnessed the Nakba,if you live in Israel. the vast majority live in Ramallah and few in East Jerusalem.If you can visit Amman, you will find a large number of them.If you live in the US , you can find a small Liftawi community there.

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    20. bobby

      ben israel, if u think theres any truth to what u said about preserving the lands characteristics, have you seen how your “jewish-only” colonies look like?? they look like american suburbs with nice swimming pools…those houses were built where there used to be houses as beautiful as the lifta ones, those were demolished to make way to ur nice american suburbs….

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    21. AYLA

      @DEIR–wow. thanks so much. And don’t worry–I know who I’m asking ;), and you’ll notice that you’re the one I asked. I’m a one-stater too. To me that means one state for all of us, in a true, if struggling, democracy. In the U.S., black and white kids sit in a classroom together and study our slavery history. And now we have a black president. I’m *not* equating race relations in the U.S. to anything here–just a note about how democracy can increasingly work and continually struggle and progress, and histories can be honored, even when it’s painful. I wish one state were on the negotiation table. Since it isn’t, I’m supporting the Palestinian State, because I wouldn’t want my support of one state to be a part of what keeps us locked, here. here is not okay. Really looking forward to looking through all those books, and to reading some of them. As for balance, I just plan to read some books more from the Jewish narrative from authors I respect. I’ve never read any of the cannon that most Jews have read (ie “O Jerusalem”) and I’m considering it… More likely, I’ll read David Grossman’s Yellow Wind which I trust is beautiful. And someone just told me to read anything by michael oren and tom segev. Regarding different narratives, I believe they’re all simultaneously true. I’ll try to distribute your reading list to more interested readers. Thank you. @Palestinian. I live in Israel in the Negev–remember you and Deir and I discussed that on our first date? ;). I try to keep a small footprint… The wind and dust conspire to help. Because the Negev is my home, and at risk of sounding like an American Cliche, some of my best friends are bedouin, their relocation is where I’m putting most of my off-line, protesting energy these days. I love your suggestion. I so much prefer talking to people than to reading, and prefer the books that are personal testimonies (and shed light on something larger). Sometimes, I find the deepest truth to be in poetry and fiction. What @JALAL wrote here really touched my heart in ways that most history books cannot. And when we speak from our hearts, we reach people in ways that we can’t if we’re speaking from anger. I’ve just realized that if I’m going to have a voice (sometimes I write editorials), I need some more foundational knowledge. Thank you both so much for the help. Take care. p.s. @AVI–thank you for what you wrote. We need a “like” button, here on @+972.

      Reply to Comment
    22. RichardNYC

      I don’t think any of the links in this piece describe the proposed development, unless the one from Maariv does – the one you’ve indicated as a description of the plan is just an architectural survey. Can you provide a link for anything in English? The only thing I found was this: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/israel-moves-to-turn-deserted-palestinian-village-into-luxury-housing-project-1.338280

      but it is kind of old so may things have changed.

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    23. RichardNYC

      Also I agree they should preserve this, but it seems they’d probably need to renovate it at least enough for tourists to see it pompeii/zuni pueblo style.

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    24. AYLA

      You know, to me, the only thing more hurtful than the destruction of this beautiful, historic village (for modern and jewish housing, no less) is when we all respond to one another with tragic events from our own history to try to… I don’t know… one-up each other? level the playing field? Justify our destructive, deeply disrespectful, lack of humility? WHAT IF: we who claim to love this land felt that it was a deep loss for us ALL to see ANY history erased from her? What if we felt that part of loving this land meant that we could empathize with why others do as well? What if Jews wanted to preserve Litfa for the same reasons Palestinians do? What if loving this land meant not trashing her with garbage and drilling into her rocks for oil shale and draining her waters and not sharing her waters, and for God’s sake, not cutting down her olive trees to spite people? What if part of loving this land meant living on it together because all of our lives would be enriched from knowing each other and each other’s cultures (and plain old simply being friends)? And if people want to live in a more segregated neighborhood, they could. What if loving this land meant making it possible for EVERYONE, local and tourist, to visit their holy sites, and ideally, each other’s holy sites, even if that entailed a certain amount of security (for all of them)? Even if you’re a fundamentalist Jew, God did not kick Ishmael off the land. Quite the contrary, God loved and took very good care of Ishmael, and gave him land in what is in today’s Israel. And no one living here represents the Torah’s Israelite-enemies; we are cut from the same cloth. (not that the Torah should be read without more modern talmudic teachings and our own conscious and intuition anyway). The only thing more hurtful than the destruction of Litfa is this idea that we are separate. No one is separate. Especially not here. I want Litfa to be preserved for Israel’s sake, for Palestine’s sake, for our sake, for MY sake.

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    25. Palestinian

      @ Ayla , then you support our right of return ?

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    26. AYLA

      @Palestinian: absolutely.

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    27. Palestinian

      @ Ayla , have you done anything so far ? I’m serious , like joining Zochrot ,trying to help Palestinians families in Lyd, Ramle and Jaffa to keep their homes , awareness campaign directed to Americans esp Jewish Americans …

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    28. AYLA

      @Palestinian–thank you for believing in my power to help, and that’s a good and fair question, one I wrestle with all the time. what I come back to, always, is this truth: I’m a novelist. It’s my unique calling. I have to trust that my work — my book, Measuring Rain — if I face it more bravely (a struggle) — can, and will, be a healing agent in the world. I feel that I must write it now with much more force, so that it is born sooner than later; I’ve been pregnant with it for too long. I myself have found being moved by literature to be more healing and mind/heart-altering than perhaps anything else. This work requires a lot of faith, and I struggle to hold on to that faith, but at the end of the day, I have no choice, and that’s how you know it’s a calling.

      That said, yes, I also want to help, now, in more active ways. I am out demonstrating occasionally (when I first moved here, honestly, it was the African Refugee situation that caught my heart–the i/p conflict felt too overwhelming for me–but now that I am a citizen, something I never expected myself to be/do, I feel a new and surprising (to me) sense of urgent responsibility to offset my privilege to be here by fighting for the Palestinian right to return, to learn more (from everyone), and to fight for basic human rights in this conflict. I think, though I’m not sure, that there can’t be a right to return without a one or two state “solution” along with it, no? That fight all goes together, it seems.

      As an activist, I think I’m better put to use by writing editorials than by holding picket signs, but if you ever know of anything particularly important, please let me know. Maybe we could be facebook friends? I’m easy to identify on the 972 fb page threads.

      I don’t know Zochrot, so already you’re helping me. I’m on the lists for Sheik Jarrah, Solidarity Tent, lots of peace-type orgs. Rabbis for Human Rights, etc.

      I have a blog, and I’m going to try to use it more for the kind of American Jewish Awareness you’re calling for. There is a lot they simply don’t know (though a good percentage are very, very sympathetic–there’s a strong polarization, there). I think there’s a lot that Israelis don’t know, too, about recent Palestinian history. Actually, I think we’re all guilty of having one-sided, or limited, narratives to some degree or another. And like you, I really prefer to learn from listening to people, as I find this to be a deeper truth than dates and numbers; if it isn’t remembered or understood that way by the people, really, who cares? There’s a difference between different narratives and propaganda, but even propaganda–which must be fought–gets into our narratives, and there it is. To me, all narratives are simultaneously true. Even false ones.

      I have a few friends from Ramallah, a few from Bethlehem, and from East Jerusalem. Also palestinian israelis and bedouin (one of my closest friends in the world). Thank God–both for their friendship, and for what I’m able to learn from them. This–that we know each other–is far more unusual than it should be.

      And although I am a relative outsider, and very American in some unshakeable ways (and not in others!), I believe that this gives me a distance that can help my work, because I’m more able to enter and understand all stories since I’m not too lodged in my own. At risk of outraging @Deir, of whom I’ve grown fond (an old-fashioned word, but apt), I’m seventh generation american. That means my family came over long before the holocaust (though I do have some family lost there, too–most people do), and I still grew up feeling my judaism and identifying with Jews as family the way Arabs do with Arabs, so their experiences were mine, too. in fact, I had holocaust nightmares my whole childhood because of what I learned and took in at a young age; what’s in our minds and hearts is our truth, regardless of what did or did not happen directly to us, or to anyone. In any case, God/fate made me born seventh generation american, and called me to the desert, and to write this book, so I can’t apologize for where I come from; it’s the way I’m meant to be, and like all circumstances, comes with its own set of blessings and curses. Mostly, in the large scheme of things, abundant blessings. with which comes great responsibility.

      So Palestinian–I’m going to heed your words (words which were coming to me already, over Yom Kippur)–and try to direct my energy in more tangible ways to help. NOW is the time. The revolution is here. Everything must change–and in many ways, it must, um… not change back, but be informed by the wisdom of the way the world works, in balance, when we don’t mess with it.

      So. I’ll get to work. And writing is my tool. Also I really do need to read a little, to bolster my understanding. @Deir’s list is great. And today, on another thread, I asked @Ben Israel to explain his perspective, and that helped me, too. We don’t necessarily have to persuade each other (with me and B.I., for example, this is highly unlikely), but we can empathize more with each other if we understand what’s behind each other’s beliefs. And empathy is at the heart of all change.

      Thank you. Please do send me a fb friend request if you’re comfortable. I’m afraid to see how long this will be when I press ‘submit’. 🙂


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    29. AYLA

      @palestinian–went to Zochrot site. ‘liked’ it. love their work, “To commemorate, witness, acknowledge, and repair.” Thank you…

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    30. Katie

      What a wonderful discussion, albeit triggered by a sad pronouncement. It really restores faith in humanity and in compassion for others. Thanks to all who have contributed.

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    31. Deïr Yassin

      @ Ayla
      You’re absolutely right: nothing like litterature to understand the Other and feel empathy. Good litterature is worth a hundred sociological or historical theses.
      I’ve read dozens of books on the Holocaust, I’ve visited camps, but nothing touched me more than when I read Israel Joshua Singer, Isaac Bashevi Singer’s older and rather unknown brother, though a far better writer in my opinion. His “Of a world that is no more” and “The Family Carnowsky” had me reading throughout most of the night, and made me miss stop on the subway.
      As far as your ‘future reading’ is concerned: yes, Tom Segev, another “New Historian” is great. His book “The First Israelis” is the best you could ever read on the topic. Though it’s history, you swallow it as good litterature. And I forgot: you MUST read Michael Warschawski, the director of the Alternative Information Center. He’s the son of a famous French Rabbi, went to Israel in the ’60’s to study in a yeshiva. He soon left and became an human right activist and he’s a One Stater too (and married to Lea Tzemel, the lawyer of many Palestinians). His “On the Border”, a kind of ‘road-movie’, was a book that profoundly changed my idea about Israelis.
      We’ll come back to the reading list of Palestinian litterature later 🙂

      As “Palestinian” introduced you to Zochrot, here’s an article with the director Eitan Bronstein. Frankly, when I read this article last spring, he had me crying. Nothing like an Israeli saying that he/she wants us to come home to make me cry 🙂

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    32. AYLA

      @Deir–I can’t thank you enough, for everything you said here, and for the reading list. I’m very moved by you. And have no idea how you find the time for all you read and write and do. Professor? (does this ‘subway’ mean that you live in New York City?!). And is your family from Deir Yassin? I want you to come home. I want everyone to come home.

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    33. AYLA

      From Eitan Bronstein, of Zochrot:

      “…Miska, Qula, Bir’im, Saffuriyya, al-Ghabisiyya, ‘Ayn Ghazal, Yaffa, Haifa, Tabaria, Ijzim, Dair Yassin, Safsaf, Ijlil, Qaqun, ‘Innaba, al-Lajjun, al-Ghubayyat, and more – Israel destroyed an entire life, an entire page of civilization, in destroying these places. For me these places have a real face, one that I met personally, and there are many refugees that are demanding their right to return to them.

      When you return these empty towns and villages will be filled with people, they will be bursting with life and will stop being only a testimony for death and sad memories as they have been for 62 years. Filling up these spaces will also fill up the empty space in my own humanity.”

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    34. US Navy Officer

      the tragedy of Lifta is a heartbreak. So was the sniper-fire killing of Jews which emanated from there in the late 1940s.

      I’m all for a right of return for the Liftawis…. when Jews are allowed to return to praying at the Temple Mount.

      Actions have consequences. The Liftawis didn’t choose to cooperate with the renaissance of Hebrew Sovereignty in Judea. The Druzim did. The Druzim didn’t lose their homes…..

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