“And the border circled from the top of the mountain to the fountain of the Mei (water of) Neftoach, and went out to the cities of Mount Ephron; and the border circled to Baalah, which is Kirjath-jearim” (Joshua 15:9)
By Nosson Shulman
As a veteran tour guide specializing in off-the-beaten-track sites of Israel, I often have the privilege of touring with visitors who have been so many times, that they feel they have seen most of the mainstream sites and want me to bring them to places rarely included in an itinerary. One site checking that box, is the (almost perfectly) preserved ancient town of Lifta, right by the entrance to Jerusalem. In addition to its central location, this site offers everything from Biblical heritage, a rich history, great swimming, pastoral quiet, and an abandoned village where the buildings still stand at their original height.
In Biblical times, the town was called Mei Neftoach (literally translates to Waters of Neftoach) and was a border town between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (see Joshua 15:19 and 18:15). It got its name because of the many springs and an abundance of water found here.
During the Great Jewish revolt (which climaxed with the destruction of the holy Second Temple, circa 70 CE) the city was destroyed by future Emperor Titus. In later Roman and Byzantine times, the town was rebuilt and called Neptho. During the Crusader times the town was called Clepsta, and impressive finds from this period were found.
Inside the crusader structure was found a well a preserved Olive Oil Press, which was in use until the middle of the 20th century.
Most of the still-standing homes we see now were once homes of wealthy Arabs during the Ottoman period. Besides the many orchards and olive oil industry, the town’s inhabitants owned an abundance of land which the Jewish community of Jerusalem bought up bit by bit in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
They bought from the owners who were usually unaware that they were selling to Jews (many of them would not have otherwise sold the land if they had known the religion of the buyers). One of the neighborhoods built during this time was the iconic (and still flourishing) Nachlaot neighborhood and Jerusalem’s ultra-trendy Mahane Yehuda food market.
Unfortunately, the inhabitants of Lifta regularly took part in organized riots (often resulting in massacres) against unarmed Jews. An example was the massacre of 1929, where hundreds of Jews were killed or injured. When the UN voted to form an independent Jewish state in November of 1947, Lifta became a major sniping post at Jewish civilians entering Jerusalem. (Lifta sits right beside the entrance to Jerusalem, a position which allowed its controllers to severely limit Jewish movement in and out of the city.)
In early 1948, the Arab Supreme Council asked the civilians to leave the town so that they could eliminate the Jews quickly (the inhabitants were told it would take about 6 weeks) after which they could return (many had winter homes located throughout the Middle East such as in Amman and Beirut and chose to “wait” out the war there). In place of the civilians, armed Arab militias entered the homes, using the town as a forward position to lay siege to Jerusalem.
Due to the dangers such a town posed, it was taken over by the Jewish forces and then deserted of inhabitants (who were very hostile to the concept of a Jewish State). Since 1948, the well-preserved town was all but abandoned, although in 2017 it was declared a national park. In 2021, plans were announced to built 259 new home units and a luxury hotel in this amazing and beautiful location.
On your next trip to Israel, if you are looking for something off the beaten track, Lifta should definitely be on your itinerary! Relive Beit El with Nosson Shulman on your very own private luxury Israel tour.
Nosson Shulman is a licensed tour guide and trip organizer in Israel who specializes in History, Tanach (Bible) and Adventure Tours. For more itineraries click here. Check out our new Virtual tours including free sneak preview videos.