Sunday, September 25, 2022

Return to Lifta

A hike through the abandoned Palestinian village showed me not much has changed since I graduated from high school there nearly 50 years ago.

The Jerusalem Experimental HighSchool had its first permanent facility in a renovated abandoned house in Lifta on the outskirts of Jerusalem and I studied there for two years in the 1970s. The school later relocated to the center of Jerusalem, but my memories of walking along a scenic path through Lifta on my way to classes are still crystal clear.

My high school was in this building
Just last month, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Israel Lands Authority agreed to shelve and “rethink”plans to turn Lifta into a boutique neighborhood for the rich, complete with luxury housing, a hotel, and an upscale commercial and business center. Recently, however, the Lifta Boutique Hotel opened its doors with 6 luxuriously furnished suites, an infinity pool, jacuzzi, and sauna, overlooking the valley.

According to media reports, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion wants to preserve the village and turn it into a World Heritage Site. It is not clear to me, what that would mean.

Driving into Jerusalem, the abandoned buildings of Lifta are quite an eyesore. They stand in sharp contrast to the recently constructed railway bridge that towers over the valley. The houses are a remnant of a vibrant Palestinian Arab community that was forcibly evacuated in 1948, before the establishment of the State of Israel.

A misleading statement issued by the Jerusalem Municipality states that the "village dates back to the days of the Second Temple and continued to exist in various ways until the War of Independence."

Following the war, Israel settled hundreds of immigrants from Yemen and Kurdistan in Lifta, but because of the poor conditions, including lack of electricity and other infrastructure, they were asked to leave and compensated, and holes were drilled in the roofs of their homes to discourage squatters.

One of the buildings was used in 1984 as the base of the so-called "Lifta Gang", a Jewish terrorist group that plotted to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount. Gang members were stopped at the last minute with 250 pounds of explosives, hand grenades, and other weapons.

The school where I studied became a drug abuse rehabilitation center for adolescents, but this shut down in 2014.

Inside one of the abandoned buildings in Lifta

Today, the village is part of the Mei Neftoach nature reserve, and efforts are being made to improve access to the spring at its center. The village attracts ultra-Orthodox youths from the nearby Romema neighborhood, wayward youths seeking solitude, and Jerusalem's Arab residents looking for ways to reconnect with their national heritage.

Mei Neftoach spring
What should be done in Lifta? Should it serve as a neighborhood for the rich? Should the former Palestinian owners be compensated, or allowed to return? Should the abandoned buildings be left as is, for future generations to decide their fate?

In the meantime, Lifta is a unique and colorful hiking destination in Jerusalem. Walking along its pathways and peering into its collapsed homes is a step into the past, an exploration that raises questions about the village's future.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

A Short Story Writer's Favorite Words

What a great way to start the weekend, or any day for that matter. An email pops up in my Inbox with a short sentence that brings a smile to my face:

"Thank you for this story, which we are delighted to accept."

This mail comes just three weeks after I received a similar mail:

"We'd love to run this story. Thank you for submitting it."

Two stories accepted in three weeks' time! Reading these mails, I feel a sense of accomplishment. They're a sign that all my efforts have been worthwhile. I have been writing short stories these past four years and my creative efforts have been appreciated.

You would think that becoming a successful short story writer is something easy to achieve. Well, it's not.

This mail arrived just two days ago:

"Thank you for your recent submission. Regrettably, we are unable to find a place for it in our next issue, and we're going to have to pass at this time."

And this one last week:

"Thank you for sending us your story. We appreciate the chance to read it. Unfortunately, the piece is not for us."

And another:

"... Unfortunately, this piece isn't the right fit for us."

And another:

"We appreciated the chance to read it. Although there was a lot to like here, it didn't quite come together for us in the end, and we regret to pass."

Rejection after rejection, all of them impersonal form rejections, outnumbering accepted pieces by a wide margin.

My statistics for 2022 so far: 126 submissions, 8 acceptances. That is actually a very high success rate, and I'm quite proud of myself.

(Note: Nearly all of these were simultaneous submissions. I did not write 126 short stories.)

Five of my stories have already been published this year, and three more will be published soon.

In the meantime, I'll keep writing and submitting, and hoping for the next email that says, "We'd love to run this story."

Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash