Summary of the Lifta Landscape and Culture Conference

March 30-31, 2017

The conference comprised the first time that the Israeli Antiquities Authority presented the findings of its comprehensive survey of Lifta. The survey has yet to be published, but Avi Mashiach, the head of the survey team, presented the key findings from the most detailed and expensive survey that the Antiquities Authority had ever conducted in Lifta.

Avi Mashiach: “This is the only place in the entire area where you see intact remnants of the Arab village culture that had characterized the country for many years, and which is not visible today. The way that the landscape, environment and terraces come together has been preserved wonderfully… I hope that the survey results will lead to its preservation for future generations.” Mashiach presented some aspects of the survey itself: “According to the evidence, we see that the site’s history goes back to the First Temple era and even earlier. A quarried water reservoir so old that we don’t know when it was first used. Shards that rolled down to the river bed that attest to a very long continuous settlement of the site… After reconstructing the Crusades-era shards in the site, the necessary conclusion is that these shards are of an extremely early period.”

Furthermore, Mashiach presented on Lifta’s historical development and on the village’s subdivision into residential homes and industrial areas. He showed a row of six olive presses and many industrial buildings located beneath the existing row of houses.

In his presentation, Mashiach concluded that “The basic thing that undermines the village’s preservation is the new subdivision of the site, which does not refer to the traditional layout of the village and does not allow for the village’s preservation, and which is the key to understanding the village.” The planned roads will damage the village’s fabric and its potential for preservation.

… Key survey findings that contradict the current plan:

  1. Developing the infrastructure will impact the river bed and all the systems that are involved it and that depend on it. (“The drainage systems will be seriously damaged… There is a plan that provides drainage for the village but it’s impact on the flow of water is unknown.”)
  2. The survey points out that the village’s original network of paths must be preserved and that the existing plan will damage them. A simulation was presented that shows how the new path system would damage the landscape and cut through the village’s historic fabric. The three story parking structure, like the rest of the proposed road system, damages the existing survey findings and does not align with the survey and its recommendations. (Mashiach:”The subdivision of the lots and the new roads erase the village’s traditional layout, which is the key to understanding the village and its development – the landscape aspect is critical for Lifta’s preservation”.)
  3. The existing plan did not take into consideration the exciting discovery of a covered industrial street that once linked six olive presses in the village. The plan flies in the face of these findings, which means that the plan’s implementation will damage them.
  4. The plan’s implementation would result in the loss of the village’s below-ground structures, which are essential to showing different time periods in each building’s development and the different ways in which it was used: residential, public or industrial.
  5. The current building plan’s implementation would erase the context in which the archaeological findings, including First Temple Period, were found, a context that might lead to further research in everything pertaining to current understanding of patterns of settlement in this region at the time.
  6. The plan would undermine the site’s accessibility and visibility for both humans and animals.
  7. The plan would deal a serious blow to the local wild mammalian and avian populations, and it does not sufficiently address the village spring’s environment and the habitats that have formed around the built environment.

In response to a question about whether the building plan can be replaced with making sure that the houses are stabilized  so as to facilitate the site’s preservation, Mashiach responded: “There is an option to take care of them, to provide first aid for all these houses. It needs to be a slow, step-by-step process, not a ‘one off’ but a house-to-house process using the original technology.”

Amir Balaban of the Society for the Protection of Nature talked about his concern that the planned construction would harm the Lifta spring, which is one of the largest and most important springs in Jerusalem. He explained its importance: “Biological phenomena in the area surrounding it are amazing. Things that are unique even on the international level.” Balaban added that “Lifta must serve the entire entrance to the city and Jerusalem Park. Lifta is the diamond in the crown of Jerusalem Park.” He concluded with a personal note that he hopes that proper cooperation between the different parties can prevent the historic missed opportunity of building in Lifta for the wealthiest percentile of the population: “…On a personal level, and I say this as Amir, the plan is catastrophic and it’s not worth even the effort to try [to adapt] it…

 Jerusalem will lose, not us, if it wastes this area on a few villas.”

Attorney Sami Ershied, who filed the petition with the court in 2010 on behalf of the Coalition demanding that a survey be conducted before the Lifta lands are sold, made clear to the conference participants that now that the survey has been completed, it must be published and the public must be invited to participate in drafting a new plan. We should not consent that the survey be made available only to an architects’ office tasked with amending the annex to the plan, without cancelling the entire plan.

Conference participants included well-known architects in Israel, members of the Israeli architects association, ICOMOS representatives, students and lecturers from the Bezalel Academy of Art and The Hebrew University, residents of Lifta, refugees from Lifta, members of the Society for the Protection of Nature board, Jerusalem city council representatives and dozens of Jerusalemites and lovers of Lifta. There was a unanimous consensus that the survey’s results demand that the existing plan (6036) be cancelled, and that the public should be invited to participate in planning Lifta’s preservation.

We agreed to meet again on Friday, April 21st at 10:00 at the to begin working to cancel the building plan in Lifta.