This week we went to Lifta, a ghost town that was an Arab village on the side of a steep hill at the western entrance to Jerusalem. The site has been populated since ancient times because of a natural spring located there. In the Bible, the village is mentioned as Nephtoah (נפתח), on the border between the Israelite tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
In the last official land and population survey In 1945 Lifta’s population was 2,250, all Arabs, and the total land area was 8,743 dunams. The farmers of Lifta marketed their produce in Jerusalem’s markets. The population was driven out/fled during the Arab-Jewish hostilities of 1947/48 during the efforts by the Haganah to relieve the siege of Jerusalem. Today 55 of the original (more than 400) stone houses are still standing but the village has never been repopulated.
Lifta is on the edge of the newly developed Jerusalem Park, made up of 4 parks, a greenbelt that extends over some 1,500 hectares (3700 acres), surrounding Jerusalem to the north, west, and south. This is a great place for visitors and Jerusalem residents to explore, with walking trails and bicycle paths. You can get a map of the park at Emeq HaArazim, just below Lifta at http://www.jerusalempark.org.il/download/files/park-arazim-hires.pdf.
The plan is to maintain existing woods and forests including ancient cedar, arazim for which the park is named, and olive groves and to restore and plant orchards and indigenous broad-leafed tree species.
Further inside the park at Einot Telem, the ancient terrace agriculture typical of the area with its irrigation system will be recreated at the site of a small Jewish settlement – Bet Talma. The land (60 acres, 23 hectares) was purchased in 1906 and a two-story building intended for a soap and oil factory was planned (but not completed). In 1922 five Jewish families settled at Einot Telem, naming their settlement Emek HaArazim (the Valley of the Cedars). The site was abandoned during the 1929 Arab Riots and further settlement attempts were unsuccessful.