Podcast Ep 41: The village of Lifta and the expulsion of the Palestinians

“This is my memory. This is my history. This is my life,” 81-year-old Yacoub Odeh tells us about his childhood and experience of expulsion from the Jerusalem village of Lifta in 1948.

“The beautiful life that I dream … and struggle to restore this beautiful life, to go back home. To go back home. To plan our village, to renovate our houses, and to live … like everyone [else] under the sun,” he says.

On episode 41, we speak to Odeh about Lifta and his community’s 73-year struggle to return to their homes.

We are also joined by Umar al-Ghubari of Zochrot, an organization promoting acknowledgment and accountability for the ongoing injustices of the Nakba.

Al-Ghubari and Odeh both lead political tours inside Lifta, where Odeh and other refugees from Lifta are forbidden to return to live under Israel’s racist laws.

The Israel Land Authority, a government agency which functions to push Palestinians off their land and lease it to Jewish Israelis, recently announced that it would open bids from real estate development companies to build settlement colonies and boutique hotels on the ruins of Lifta.

Palestinians have urged UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural body, to intervene.

Lifta is one example of hundreds of Palestinian cities, towns and villages that were ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias in the late 1940s, al-Ghubari notes.

The Nakba, he explains, was Israel’s “systematic policy of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from everywhere in order to achieve the goal of the creation of a Jewish state.”

This is not the first time Israel has attempted to demolish the village.

As architect Antoine Raffoul wrote ten years ago for The Electronic Intifada, since its depopulation in 1948-49, Lifta has been kept deserted by the Israeli authorities and has long faced demolition by speculative developers.

As a last act of architectural violation, Raffoul writes, Israeli settlers have destroyed the elegant domed roofs in an attempt to prevent a return by Lifta’s legitimate owners.

“They want to change our beautiful village [into] a colony,” Odeh says. “At no time will we keep silent. We will resist. We will struggle, we will go to the court as we did in the beginning.”

Articles we discussed

Video production by Tamara Nassar

Theme music by Sharif Zakout

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In 1983 I was staying outside of Jerusalem where I had been interviewing members of Yesh G'vul, the organization of Israeli reservists who refused to take part in the invasion of Lebanon the previous year when I discovered Lifta the ruins of which at that time could still be seen from the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, an ever present reminder of the Nakba and Israel's founding crimes. On three different days I walked through the still beautiful now deserted village taking photos inside and outside of the empty houses which I made into a slide show when I returned to the SF Bay Area the following year. As I recall there were former residents of Lifta in the audience.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).