Jerusalem opposes a controversial construction plan in the abandoned Palestinian village of Lifta, which is considered a site of global historic significance, the municipality told the Jerusalem District Court last week.
The city's statement to court, responding to a petition by refugees from the village and a group of Jerusalem activists, says it wants the Israel Land Authority's plan cancelled, as it would "would crush many green areas and areas of utmost historical importance. In the city’s opinion, the plan does not serve the public interest."
The municipality told the court that the Land Authority promoted the plan for a high-end residential neighborhood despite the city's objections. Both began working on the plana decade ago.
The area of the village, at the western entrance to Jerusalem, should be developed, the city said, "but in a cautious manner, and while carefully preserving the unique character of the area, its historical value, and the public interest."
The village of Lifta is the only Palestinian village that has remained untouched, seemingly frozen in time, since 1948. Other towns and villages captured during Israel's War of Independence were demolished or repopulated.
As Lifta is the best preserved village remaining from before the war, it possesses tremendous historical value, as an example of the local building traditions. UNESCO has listed Lifta on its tentative list of World Heritage Sites.
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The refugees from Lifta, who now live in East Jerusalem, petitioned the District Court against the plan and managed to force the state to conduct a comprehensive archaeological survey before the building plan is approved. The survey conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority revealed the complexity and uniqueness of the village, which includes a large underground system and ruins dating to the Hellenistic period over 2,000 years ago, among many other things.
The Land Authority nonetheless decided to advance the plan to build the new neighborhood on the remains of the village. Four months ago, the authority announced its intention to allow developers to bid on the construction project, but has since repeatedly postponed issuing the tender with full details, and is now supposed to be announced at the end of the month. Based on the known details of the tender, the intention is to build 259 private homes, a public building, commercial space and a hotel in the area.
The petitioners claim the tender does not take historical preservation of the village into consideration, and has not been updated with the recent archaeological findings. The plan’s opponents then petitioned the Jerusalem District Court requesting to cancel the tender.
The Israel Land Authority argued in response that the tender has not yet been released, and the petitioners do not yet know what the plan includes regarding historical preservation.