01/28/2011 03:18

Environmental and preservation groups favor plan for luxury complex as only way to save the area at at Jerusalem entrance.

An apartment complex may be built at the entrance to the capital, at the site of the abandoned Arab village of Lifta.

The Israel Lands Authority published a tender for the complex earlier this month – for 212 luxury apartment villas and a hotel.

The published tender means that contractors have until March 6 to submit their bids for the project, which has already been approved by the Interior Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality. The project was designed by the Ehud Tayar Engineering Firm.

Tayar’s office did not respond to repeated calls for comment about the project.

Both the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Council for the Preservation of Historic Sites are in favor of the development of Lifta. The council initially filed an opposition to the project, arguing that the old stone houses needed to be rehabilitated rather than destroyed. When their complaint was accepted and a rehabilitation initiative was incorporated into the project, the council gave its blessing, spokesman Isaac Schweky said.

“Now, we’re waiting for them to build, because every day that goes by the buildings are being destroyed as time takes its toll,” he said.

“[SPNI and our council] are green organizations, but we’re not against development and preservation,” Schweky said.

“You can’t have no development, or no preservation. We don’t want to be frozen in the current situation.”

He pointed out that since the area became a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes, the houses have deteriorated faster than ever. Some of the stones have been stolen, causing the buildings to crumble.

The only way to save Lifta, he believes, is to develop it.

Lifta was abandoned by its residents in 1948, and is one of the only such Arab villages that was not destroyed or inhabited by Jews after 1948.

The area is a well-known hiking destination, and a beautiful pool in the middle of the village is popular with the residents of nearby ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods as a mikve ritual bath, especially during the summer.

Lifta was featured in the film Someone to Run With, based on the David Grossman novel.

The complex will include 212 luxury villas, as well as a hotel, and will preserve the existing traditional stone houses, the pool, the gardens and an old Muslim cemetery.

Zochrot, a Tel Aviv-based NGO whose aim is to promote awareness of the Palestinian nakba (catastrophe), lamented the loss of the last Palestinian village left unchanged from before 1948.

“It’s going to be a terrible message for the Palestinians and the world that basically we’re continuing what we started in ’48,” said Eitan Bronstein, spokesman for the group.

Zochrot is partnering with other organizations to try to scuttle the project before construction starts, by offering tours of Lifta with former Arab residents of the village.