Laura van Rij (LR): What is your connection to Lifta?
Itzik Shweky (IS): I work for the Society for preservation of Israel heritage sites; we made a plan for the preservation of Lifta. When I was young nobody went there. There are better places to go when you are living in Jerusalem. Dangerous people lived there, doing drugs, there are snakes… I don´t believe people went there to hike; only the religious come to swim in the pool. I was born in Jerusalem, my mother and father and my grandparents come from Jerusalem. I´m like a Jewish Palestinian, no one can say I came from outside. My mission in Jerusalem is to keep the history and stop knocking down historical buildings.
LR: What is the difference between your plan and that of the Israeli Land Authority?
IS: The plan of the Israeli Land Authority is not a good one. They want to build too much, they would destroy the village. We want to preserve the houses. We want to have the new and keep the old. If you wait with building the houses will be destroyed by stealing and natural reasons. In the future there might be a very religious mayor, the religious don´t want to keep the history of the Arabs so they will destroy the complete village and build big houses there. They need new houses because there are more and more religious people here.
LR: So you want to renovate a few houses and build new ones inbetween?
IS: We want to keep all the 54 houses. The houses are nice. But it costs a lot of money to renovate, to bring facilities like electricity, water, sewage... New houses cost less money than renovating the old, so we build some new ones in between, to cover the cost. We want to keep the history, we don´t want to destroy it. Our organisation wants to keep it, but some want to keep the village like it is now. The radical left thinks that the village should stay like it is.
LR: What kind of history do you want to preserve? Do you mean you just want to keep the architecture?
IS: I don´t care who lived there. If I can renovate it anyone can live there, Arabs as well. We keep the history and the architecture, but I won´t bring life back to the 16th century. We live in the 21st century now; we want to keep the houses, but I´m not going to bring donkeys and sheep over there.
LR: Most people I spoke to wanted to have a kind of museum in Lifta.
IS: I´m not saying that it’s a bad idea, but no one will do it because it costs a lot of money. What you see now is only a small part of the village. There used to be 1300 houses, so you can´t bring it back to the way it was anyway. Nobody will do this; they will just knock everything down and build new houses. That is why we have to do something now, I think about the future. All the time I´m thinking about the future.
LR: What about the idea of Gadi Iron? he thinks Lifta could be the new Machu Pichu.
IS: Gadi Iron used to work with us, but now he turned very radical, I think he goes a bit too far. I´ve been to Machu Pichu, it is completely different. It´s heritage, very special, Lifta is just a village like there are 500 others, it´s not heritage. There are a lot of houses that are real monuments in Jerusalem.
LR: Why do you think so many people are attached to Lifta?
IS: Israel and the conflict with the Arabs has been in the focus, Jerusalem has been in the focus, and Lifta has been as well. So many people have an opinion about it.
LR: Do you think Lifta became a symbol?
IS: I don´t know. A lot of villages got destroyed in 1948 because the Arabs ran away, so they want to memorise their past. I don´t want to see it. I want things to look good, and we are not in 1948 anymore. We have to focus on the future. We have to look at the good things, I don´t like to see those things, like ´look what a bad boy you are, look what the Jews have done´. It´s no good, I want to see a nice area and tourists coming. Lifta has everything to make it a nice place with restaurants and a hotel; they have the spring, nice gardens… Look, there are people that are against the plan and there are people that like it.
The interview is for the project "It's all about people - Narratives from Lifta" done by Laura van Rij as part of her M.A. in public history at The University of Amsterdam.
Interview location: Office of the society for preservation of Israel heritage sites, Jerusalem
June 23, 2013