I saw this documentary as part of the 2014 London Palestine Film Festival, followed by a talk with Eyal Weizman, the plucky architect who narrates the film. I learned a lot from his book Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation, for its critical overview of the slow, mundane, pre-meditated way that the occupation of Palestine has been orchestrated over time. The brief documentary, directed by Ana Naomi de Sousa, addresses and visualizes the more striking elements of the book. For example, Israel’s use of “Jerusalem stone” in building housing units in the settlements surrounding Jerusalem, to evoke the old city center of the iconic city. The architect knows these buildings are mostly made of concrete, the outside layer merely a facade. (An added tidbit from the book is that this stone is actually mined and manufactured in the West Bank.) The film explores how “Architecture is used by architects…as a weapon.”
Just past the edge of west Jerusalem a hill descends down into a small valley. Visible from the highway above, large crumbling houses casually dot the hillside, making up what was once the Palestinian village of Lifta.
Of the many villages that were cleared of their Palestinian population during the 1948 Nakba, Lifta is the only one not to have been completely destroyed or repopulated in subsequent years. It sits like a frozen moment in time, beneath the rumble of traffic taking cars to and from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and West Bank settlements.
Arriving in Jerusalem from Ramallah, we walk from the bus station near the old city and half an hour through west Jerusalem: past the Mahane Yehuda market, down Jaffa street, past the Central Bus Station. After asking for directions, we are still not sure if we are on the right street, but we can see the village down to the left. “Okay, we just have to turn left at some point,” we conclude. But there is nowhere to turn left. Like Jerusalem does not want us to turn left. Finally we walk all the way back and try a different approach.
Eventually we find the small road that descends down. There is no sign except one small one when you are already there. We pass a construction site with rumbling bulldozers, perhaps a harbinger of Israel’s plans for the area. A 2004 plan calls for the construction of a luxury neighborhood in Lifta that would preserve some of the original structures, to be carried out by private developers. Of course, such a development would be for Israeli citizens and the upper classes that could afford to live there—not the Palestinians whose homes these once were.