The Ruins of Lifta is an emotionally poignant documentary which focuses on the crumbling ruins of an old Arab settlement known as Lifta, located on the western hills of Jerusalem, as a way to illustrate the complexities of the age old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Filmmakers Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsk use their documentary to provide viewers with insights into both the history and the modern controversies at the heart of land disputes in and around Jerusalem. The Ruins of Lifta puts a human face on the violence and unrest that has resulted not only from a clash of religions but also due to long-held beliefs regarding ancestral land rights. The film gives viewers the opportunity to expose focus on the individual lives and points of view of ordinary citizens on both sides of the conflict.
The Ruins of Lifta explores a little known aspect of Israel’s long and storied past by exploring the lost, or at least little discussed, history of the Palestinian village of Lifta. This former settlement has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former self with an overgrown landscape and small group of dilapidated stone houses. Early in the film, narrator Menachem Daum explains how Lifta was raided during the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 and all of the Palestinian families who lived there were forcibly removed and not allowed to return. The film introduces viewers to Yacoub Odeh who, as a child, was one of the residents expelled from the village and forced to live as a refugee on land he believes belongs to Palestinians.
Throughout the documentary, the filmmakers not only explore the tragedy of the Holocaust but also the horrors of the Nakba in order to illustrate that suffering is suffering regardless of a person’s religious or cultural background. Again and again, the narrative of The Ruins of Lifta emphasizes that the wounds of war, violent conflict, and political division run deep as the struggles of the past continue to affect the inhabitants of modern day Israel. Indeed, the film proves that time has healed nothing.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the film is the powerful way in which Daum is able to relate the Middle East conflict to his own personal and family history. Early in the film he introduces us to his father (a Holocaust survivor) who states his belief that you can never trust non-Jews. Furthermore, the uncle whom Daum always thought of as a hero due to his role of fighting for an independent Jewish homeland is reexamined using numerous interviews with relatives as well as a closer study into the violent actions perpetrated against the Palestinians during the Nakba.
Daum, an Orthodox Jew from New York, is initially drawn to Lifta after hearing about the Israeli government’s plan to destroy the remnants of the village in order to build high-end condos and hotels on the land. Palestinians including former Lifta residents mount a legal challenge against this controversial proposal with an aim to either restore the village or preserve it for historical and cultural purposes.
The Middle East has long been a hotbed for political violence as well as religious and cultural division. Despite intermittent peace talks, Israel has also been the site of devastating acts of bloodshed. Obviously there are no easy answers and The Ruins of Lifta certainly doesn’t propose any quick fixes to the complex issues which have permeated this region over the ages. Instead, The Ruins of Lifta puts a human face on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead of an “us versus them” mentality, the filmmakers strive to show that only through co-operation and mutual understanding can things begin to change for the better. Regardless of religion or cultural background, pain is pain and the documentary once more serves to remind us that if we keep believing an eye for an eye, the whole world is destined to go blind.