Controversy over Plans for Lifta, ancient Waters of Nephtoah

On the outskirts of modern Jerusalem lies an abandoned Arab village that is likely to be identified with the biblical waters of Nephtoah. The site is listed on the Judah-Benjamin border in the tribal lists of Joshua (cf. Josh 18:15).

Joshua 15:8–9 (NIV) Then it ran up the Valley of Ben Hinnom along the southern slope of the Jebusite city (that is, Jerusalem). From there it climbed to the top of the hill west of the Hinnom Valley at the northern end of the Valley of Rephaim. From the hilltop the boundary headed toward the spring of the waters of Nephtoah, came out at the towns of Mount Ephron and went down toward Baalah (that is, Kiriath Jearim).

As Anson Rainey notes in The Sacred Bridge (p. 181), the name of the Arab village Lifta preserves the ancient name of Nephtoah. Gabriel Barkay has suggested that Mei (waters of) Nephtoah preserves the name of the Egyptian pharaoh Merneptah (“What’s an Egyptian Temple Doing in Jerusalem?” Biblical Archaeology Review 26/03, May/Jun 2000; online here).

The site is in the news today because of controversial plans to transform the crumbling village into luxury apartments and a hotel. From the Jerusalem Post:

In January, the Israel Lands Authority published a tender to build 212 luxury apartment villas and a hotel in the area of Lifta, turning the crumbling stone houses into lavish residences.
A coalition of activists successfully petitioned the Jerusalem District Court to halt the tender in March. The petition, filed by former Lifta residents, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Jafra, a Palestinian heritage organization, calls for the courts to freeze the bidding process and for the ILA to require that an independent monitoring organization complete a survey of the area to determine what should be preserved and what can be developed.
But the current legal impasse seems miles away from the peacefulness of Lifta, which has stood abandoned but largely intact for 64 years. It is the only completely abandoned Arab village that was not destroyed or inhabited by Jews after 1948, though its empty buildings have provided a haven for drug dealers, prostitutes and the homeless.
Isaac Shweky, the director of the council, takes a pragmatic approach to Lifta’s development: The site is in desperate need of repair, and if nothing is done it will continue to crumble away and eventually be reduced to nothing, as the weeds and vandals reclaim all 54 of the remaining structures. The cost to preserve the buildings would be astronomical, in the hundreds of millions of shekels. The only way to fund the preservation of the buildings, he believes, is to develop the site commercially.

The story includes a video interview with a former resident of the town who desires that the ruins be preserved as a witness to al-Naqba (“the Catastrophe”) of the founding of Israel in 1948.

Lifta, biblical Mei Nephtoah, from west, tb070707920

Lifta, site of the biblical “Waters of Nephtoah”

5 thoughts on “Controversy over Plans for Lifta, ancient Waters of Nephtoah

  1. <>

    First, "the al-Naqba" is redundant, since "al-" IS the definite article in Arabic.

    Second, and much more importantly, to say that "the Catastrophe", to Arabs, was the founding of the State of Israel (an error made by almost all Isreali media, by the way) not only grossly misrepresents the Arab-Palestinian mind but obscures the documented historical realities. The "Catastrophe" was their 400 to 500 depopulated towns, villages and urban neighborhoods (most razed and obliterated forever) and the 700 to 800 thousand people displaced by the fighting (many forcefully and intentionally expelled) who were then refused repatriation and forced into refugee status. If you want to know what "Nakba" means to a Palestinian, go find one and ask him!

    TOM POWERS / Jerusalem

  2. Tom – I have corrected the mistake with the articles above (a mistake that I made in a last-minute edit).

    I agree with the Israeli media that it's an unnecessary distinction between the founding of the state of Israel and the displacement of the Arab peoples, not only because al-Naqba is commemorated annually on Israel's Day of Independence, but also because the latter resulted from the former when the Arabs tried to slaughter the Jews. Furthermore, the desired reversal of al-Naqba to many Palestinians is not a return to destroyed villages but rather the destruction of the Israeli people. We can argue about fine points but as long as the Arabs deny Israel's right to exist, it seems that we're not going to make any progress.

  3. Todd, I think you're stuck where Bibi and his ilk are: demanding that the Palestinians utter some magic formula that will define the nature of the State of Israel — when the Israelis themselves can't even agree on that! Look, the PLO recognized Israel as a sovereign state way back in 1988 — check the history books. You're very adept at building a straw man — imagining that you know who the Arab people of this land are and what they think — and then tearing it down. It's not "fine points" we're dealing with — I'm afraid we view the conflict here through two entirely different lenses!

    Tom Powers / JERUSALEM

  4. It seems there are two different groups of people being discussed. One the one hand, Todd seems to be concerned about leaders and officials who shape ideas and policies. On the other hand, I suspect Tom is thinking of the ordinary guy on the street, the one with a family and a job, whose home may have been destroyed or who may have been relocated. Depending on which group you have in mind, injustice has been served both by and to these people. It probably does not help to speak of the Arab-Palestinian mind if one has not stated which “mind” one is speaking about. Is it possible to sympathize with the hardships of one group while abhorring the actions of the other?

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