Unique Sites of Israel: Biblical Mei Neftoach (Abandoned City of Lifta) | The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com | Nosson Shulman | 13 Sivan 5782 – June 12, 2022

Photo credit: Shutterstock under license

The abandoned Ottoman village of Lifta is almost like a time portal to the past. Since biblical times, this area has been populated for most of its history, due to the large amount of water found there

And the border turned 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 encircled to Baalah, which is Kirjath-jearim (Joshua 15:9)”

An abandoned house (one of about 60 houses still standing at its original height) in this long-abandoned ghost town of Lifta (near the entrance to Jerusalem). It was the location of the Mei (water of) Neftoach Bible.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

As a seasoned tour guide who specializes in off-the-beaten-path sites in Israel, I often have the privilege of traveling with visitors who have been so often, they feel like they’ve seen most of the sites general public and want me to bring to places rarely included in an itinerary. One site that ticks this box is the (almost perfectly) preserved ancient city of Lifta, just at the entrance to Jerusalem. In addition to its central location, this site offers everything from biblical heritage, rich history, great swimming, pastoral calm and an abandoned village where buildings still stand at their original height.

The abandoned Ottoman village of Lifta is almost like a time portal to the past. Since biblical times, this area has been populated for most of its history, due to the large amount of water found there.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

In biblical times, the city was called Mei Neftoach (literally translates to the waters of Neftoach) and was a border town between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (see Joshua 15:19 and 18:15). It takes its name from the many springs and the abundance of water found there.

The ancient pools, naturally filled with refreshing underground spring water, are still bathed by tourists on a hot summer day! The abundance of water is the reason for its biblical name.

During the Great Jewish Revolt (which culminated in the destruction of the holy Second Temple, circa 70 CE), the city was destroyed by the future Emperor Titus. Later in Roman and Byzantine times, the city was rebuilt and called Nephto. During the time of the Crusaders, the city was called Clepsta and impressive finds from this period have been discovered.

Cross structure. Later, a large Ottoman house was built on it, with the Crusader structure continuing to be used as a basement.
Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

Inside the structure of the crusaders was found a well, a preserved olive oil press, which was used until the middle of the 20th century.

Olive oil press found in near pristine condition inside the Crusader Hall.
Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

Most of the houses still standing that we see today were once homes of wealthy Arabs during the Ottoman period. Besides the many orchards and the olive oil industry, the townspeople had an abundance of land which the Jewish community of Jerusalem gradually bought up in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were buying from landlords who were generally unaware that they were selling to Jews (many of them would not otherwise have 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 thriving) neighborhood of Nachlaot and Jerusalem’s ultra-trendy Machane Yehuda food market.

The trendy Machene Yehuda food market in Jerusalem is a must for tourists!
Photo credit: Mahane Yehuda Market – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Unfortunately, the people of Lifta regularly took part in organized riots (often resulting in massacres) against unarmed Jews. An example is the 1929 massacre, where hundreds of Jews were killed or injured. When the UN voted to form an independent Jewish state in November 1947, Lifta became an important sniper post for Jewish civilians entering Jerusalem (Lifta is right next to the Jerusalem entrance , a position that 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 city so that they could eliminate the Jews quickly (the inhabitants were told this would take about 6 weeks) after which they could return (many had houses of located throughout the Middle East such as in Amman and Beirut and chose to “wait” the end of the war there). In place of the civilians, armed Arab militia entered homes, using the city as a forward position to besiege Jerusalem. Due to the dangers of such a city, it was taken by Jewish forces and then deserted by inhabitants (very hostile to the concept of a Jewish state). Since 1948, the well-preserved town has been practically abandoned, although in 2017 it was declared a national park. In 2021, plans have been announced for the construction of 259 new residential units and a luxury hotel in this magnificent and beautiful location.

On your next trip to Israel, if you’re looking for something off the beaten path, Lifta should definitely be on your itinerary!

(All photos are public domain or licensed by the author for commercial use)

Please visit the author’s site about tourist guides in Israel: https://guidedtoursofisrael.com

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