Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Land, abandoned

Hebrew writing and Arabic writing go from east to west,
Latin writing, from west to east.
Languages are like cats:
You must not stroke their hair the wrong way.
The clouds come from the sea, the hot wind from the desert,
The trees bend in the wind,
And stones fly from all four winds,
into all four winds. They throw stones,
Throw this land, one at the other,

But the land always falls back to the land. 
- An excerpt from Yehuda Amichai's "Temporary Poem of My Time"

You cannot live in Jerusalem without being saturated with talk of land. You hear about settlement building. Land swaps. The wall between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. People take care to ensure that after their passing, their home will not "switch sides."  The obsession with land made Daniel Gordis wonder in If A Place Can Make You Cry:
Can a land emit a poison, a toxin that confuses, that obfuscates, that virtually guarantees that we become something other than what we want to be? Is there something about this land, or our passion for it, that blurs the vision? 
Land in Jerusalem rarely remains unclaimed or vacant for very long. That is what makes Lifta so unique: it is the only depopulated Palestinian Arab village in Israel that has not been repopulated or completely demolished. A soup of adjectives on this land can often be a euphemism, but in this case, the story is straight-forward: The Palestinian residents of the town fled during the 1948 war. They never returned and were never replaced. As such, their empty homes are tucked into a valley between two of Jerusalem's steep hills.

There is a spring of rushing water and an olive press. There is an old school and a shrine. The village of Lifta was once famous for its embroiderers and the elaborate wedding dresses they produced. Nowadays, it is an occasional home to squatting hippies and anarchists alike - as the anarchist symbol and dove of peace co-exist on the graffitied walls. Young Israelis descend into Lifta to enjoy the natural spring and the echo of the empty homes.

A friend asked me if Lifta is a sad place. A narrative of abandonment, emptiness and depopulation is hardly one of vivacity and mirth. There is a sadness to the decay of Lifta, with candy wrappers scattered among the cacti and plans to build a hotel and luxury homes in the place of this community. Yet, I derive hope from how contemporary people, who differ from the previous occupants of a space, can make their own memories there.

It has been a couple of months since I have taken a wide-angle photograph. The panoramas of this land do not feel new to me any more, even though they still astonish me with their beauty. I seem reluctant to zoom out, to engage in a process that requires making sense of a general picture. Instead, I'm drawn to focusing, to digging deeper into the individual stories and stringing them together to allow whatever larger story binds them to float to the top. So, I bring to you the stories of Lifta in the details, with the lens right up against the warm stone wall of the homes on a Jerusalem late afternoon.





Palestine, scribbled on a rock in Arabic



Standing on the only balcony tiles left

A mural of feeding camels and a heart

The anarchists were here too.



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