The Ruins of Lifta – Poignant Documentary Provokes Intense Discussion of Israel’s Palestinian Wound

Held over at Lincoln Plaza cinema after strong reviews

Rated 100 at Rotten Tomatoes, praise from Times and Voice

Where the Holocaust and the Palestinian Exile meet

After a well attended release in Manhattan, the new documentary The Ruins of Lifta has been held over for another week, which seems especially timely as the funeral of the most arms oriented yet peacemaking president of Israel, Shimon Peres, proceeds.

Here is our review of this remarkable film:

The Ruins of Lifta – Where the Holocaust and Nakba Meet: An unusually rich and understanding exploration of the painful past and threatened future of Lifta, the last ruins standing of the 1948 forced removal of 700,000 Arabs from over 800 villages to make way for an independent Israel, personalized in a moving face-to-face meeting of two good people on either side of al-Nakba (“the catastrophe”)

Sins of the past and present
Deep humanitarianism is the style of this well constructed, caring and penetrating documentary about the two sides of Israel’s first but still festering war atrocity, the Palestinian Nakba (national disaster) of forced exile of 700,000 Arabs from as many as 800 villages in Israel’s 1948 war of independence, with its iron fist policy against return, as New York filmmakers Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky follow Daum in his personal odyssey to escape his Orthodox Jewish family’s one sided views and visit Israel to explore for himself the true character of Palestinians and their experience in the ongoing dispute since 2005 over The Ruins of Lifta, a vivid model of the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since Lifta is the only one of the evacuated Arab villages whose ruins have not yet been replaced with Israeli settlement, whose crumbling walls with stones quarried and built by the hands of its Arab inhabitants and holes blasted in its roofs to prevent return still stand as mute witness to political violence long ago and since which has left so many torn from their ancestral homes and still yearning to go back, a predicament here personalized by Menachem’s meetings with the poetic and dignified Lifta refugee Yacoub Adeh who leads the Palestinian movement to at least preserve Lifta as a memorial and defend it from an Israeli plan to develop the historically significant valley, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, though only if the Israeli government agrees not to develop it, and in the person to person rapprochement Menachem achieves in the moving climax to their film, when he introduces his friend and Holocaust survivor the lively 85 year old Dascha Rittenberg from Manhattan to Jacoub and both clash over whether one great anguish justifies another, but as they tread the paths of Lifta’s ruins together, eventually agree that peace would be served by making Lifta a memorial to a past where many Jews and Arabs once lived in harmony and an inspiration to a shared future, a small but meaningful victory for the notably humane spirit of Daum, whose equally distinguished preceding documentary Hiding and Seeking was on a similar theme of broadening the views of his two sons by taking them to Poland to visit the families of the farmers who hid Jews during World War II at the risk of their own lives, and to see young Christian Poles renovating Jewish cemeteries, both films a gentle but penetratingly effective counter to Israel’s policy of enforced enroachment on Palestinian territory, with yet another expansion in the news this week. – AL


The Ruins of Lifta will be premiering on Friday, September 23, 2016 at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, New York (and in Los Angeles a month later, in Laemmle Theatres on October 28, 2016)

The mega-narratives underlying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are pitted against each other by a Holocaust survivor and a Nakba refugee who meet in the haunting ruins of Lifta, the only Arab village emptied in 1948 that has not been completely destroyed or repopulated by Jews.

Trailer: The Ruins of Lifta – Trailer


attendnyc-sep-16-16-lifta-less-ruinedLifta is the only Arab village abandoned in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that has not been completely destroyed or repopulated by Jews. Its ruins are now threatened by an Israeli development plan that would convert it into an upscale Jewish neighborhood. Discovering that his parents’ Holocaust experiences may have distorted his views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Menachem–the filmmaker and an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn–sets out to establish a personal relationship with a Palestinian. He meets Yacoub, who was expelled from Lifta and now leads the struggle to save the haunting ruins of his village from Israeli plans to build luxury villas on the site. Learning that Lifta was once a place where Jews and Arabs got along, Menachem joins Yacoub’s campaign in the hopes that Lifta can serve as a place of reflection and reconciliation. This sets up a climactic encounter between a Holocaust survivor and a Nakba refugee amidst the ruins of Lifta.

Menachem, Dasha and Yacoub:  Human contact - the only way political narratives and emotions can be brought together in mutual understanding

Menachem, Dasha and Yacoub: Human contact – the only way political narratives and emotions can be brought together in mutual understanding

“Lifta’s Ruins succeeds as a personally honest and politically provocative documentary. It makes me think of the wonderful line that Jean Renoir speaks in his film Rules of the Game, ‘There’s only one terrible thing in this world, that everyone has his reasons.’” – Annette Insdorf, Columbia University Film Professor, author of Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust

“A personal, self-questioning encounter with the myths of history that measures the abyss between Palestinians and Jews, and between the two contending nations and peace; “a site of memory” whose history has for too long been erased; a profoundly searching and moving inquiry into the collective and personal past of Arabs and Jews; an ethical testimony marked by visual beauty and emotional poignancy, and a place where the ongoing tragedy, of Israel/Palestine continues to be reenacted.” – Marc Kaminsky, author of Shadow Traffic

“A painful, powerful and problematic film that dares to go into the ruins of a Palestinian village strategically situated on the road to Jerusalem and the conflicting claims of memories that divide Jews and Palestinians. It boldly believes that the commonality of our collective humanity can heal wounds and bridge divisions, a message that is all the more urgent because it is all the more absent in the world today.” – Michael Berenbaum, author After Tragedy and Triumph

“To the great credit of its creators, The Ruins of Lifta offers no pat dialogue-based solution to the crises of the region.” – George Robinson, The Jewish Week

“A vital study of loss and memory. Grounded in the art of listening, ‘The Ruins of Lifta’ builds a powerful, personal, political conversation between Palestinians and Israelis looking to live differently. The result is necessary viewing.” – Diana Clarke, Village Voice

“An achingly poignant documentary that investigates a debate in which dueling narratives collide.” – Daniel M. Gold, The New York Times

Built by the hands of those who lived in Lifta before 1948, many of the houses were substantial investments in time and place whose memories are as real as ever in the minds of those who fled

“By turns inspiring and dispiriting, ‘The Ruins of Lifta’ offers a muscular example of the ability of documentaries to make the political intensely personal.” – Ella Taylor, NPR

“To the great credit of its creators, ‘The Ruins of Lifta’ offers no pat dialogue-based solution to the crises of the region. Guardedly hopeful.” – George Robinson, The Jewish Week

“Provocative…allows the ambiguity to surface through interviews that reflect a range of heartfelt experiences and interpretations…visually stunning and packs an emotional wallop.” – Simi Horwitz, Film Journal International

Yacoub Odeh, Dasha and Menachem walk the path of peace in the deserted village

Yacoub Odeh, Dasha Rittenberg and Menachem Daum walk the path of peace in the deserted village

Village Voice:

Israeli Doc ‘The Ruins of Lifta’ Is a Vital Study of Loss and Memory

Israeli Doc ‘The Ruins of Lifta’ Is a Vital Study of Loss and Memory
In her 2002 book The Future of Nostalgia, Svetlana Boym argues that nostalgia comes in two main forms: restorative, which focuses on the rebuilding of a lost home, whether literal, figurative or both; and reflective, which dwells in the experience of loss, memory and ruin. The Ruins of Lifta, a new documentary by Israeli Jewish directors Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky, explores both nostalgic tendencies, often putting them in conversation and conflict. The result — vital, complicated and flawed — is necessary viewing.

Lifta has already been ruined once, and is about to be ruined again. In 1948 the Israeli government exiled the village’s Palestinian residents, and today the village — the only one within Israeli borders never to have been either settled by Israelis or razed — is a proposed site for development of a planned upscale Israeli neighborhood. Will this home needing rebuilding instead be built over? Daum, motivated by the Holocaust survivors in his own family, feels a deep connection to the displacement of Palestinians during the Nakba. After he meets Yacoub Odeh, who was expelled from Lifta in 1948 and is leading the fight against the developers, the film begins to take shape.

Grounded in the art of listening, The Ruins of Lifta builds a powerful, personal, political conversation between Palestinians and Israelis looking to live differently. There are moments of tension and awkwardness, as in a reconciliatory conversation between Yacoub and Daum’s Holocaust survivor friend Dasha, but the discomfort is necessary. Rather than sitting in tragedy or working to undo history, the voices in this film are asking what comes after nostalgia — in the real, swiftly approaching future, which depends so much on the past.

New York Times Review: In ‘The Ruins of Lifta,’ a Dispute Amid the Rubble
THE RUINS OF LIFTA Directed by Menachem Daum, Oren Rudavsky Documentary,
By DANIEL M. GOLDSEPT. Sep 22, 2016

Among the hills on the western outskirts of Jerusalem stands an abandoned group of stone buildings, the remains of Lifta, an Arab village whose residents were driven out in 1948, during what Israelis know as the War of Independence and what Palestinians call the Nakba (Catastrophe). Plans to demolish the homes and build a new development have drawn opposition from an Israeli-Palestinian coalition seeking to preserve the site.

“The Ruins of Lifta,” an achingly poignant documentary by Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky, investigates a debate in which dueling narratives collide — just as they do everywhere in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Daum is an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn, and a son of Holocaust survivors. He and Mr. Rudavsky have explored before, in “Hiding and Seeking,” how Mr. Daum’s family history had taught him to think the worst of non-Jews. Here, Mr. Daum’s questioning of that perspective leads him to recognize that tragedy had begotten tragedy: “The Holocaust and Nakba narratives are not exclusive,” he says. “I do not have to choose between them.”

Mr. Daum makes friends with Yacoub Odeh, a Palestinian in the coalition; interviews other Palestinians driven from Lifta; and hears accounts from Israeli historians. Despite all the good will, though, rifts exist, even among coalition members; as long as Israel remains an occupying force, Mr. Odeh says, there are lines that cannot be crossed.

The coalition wins a court ruling, and development plans are delayed. While the film is meant to be hopeful, it just feels very sad. Mr. Daum introduces his friend Dasha Rittenberg, a Holocaust survivor, to Mr. Odeh, but the two end up in a heated, though civil, debate. If even these gentle souls can’t find common ground, where is the way forward?

Film Credits:

Produced, written and directed by
Menachem Daum and Oren Rudavsky

Co- Producer
Martin Dornbaum

Nick August-Perna

Oren Rudavsky
Danae Elon
Adam Shuldman
Hagai Mazor
Sebastian Jensz-Stawowczyk

Associate Producers
Yael Aravah
Kasia Buczkowska

Assistant Producer
Ryan Zurich

Field Producer
Nuha Musleh

Rami Yatzkan
Rachel Gershon

Husam Bajis
Tamara Rosenberg
Eli Rudavsky
Layla Thaw

Clare and Olivier Manchon

Assistant Editors
Milica Zec
Nikita Liamzine

Additional Editing
Zelda Greenstein
Ramon Rivera Moret

National Endowment for the Arts
NY State Council on the Arts
Catapult Fund
Hartley Film Fund
Other Israel Film Fund
Annette Insdorf
Mark Toporek

Fiscal Sponsor
Hartley Film Foundation

Archival Footage Research
Svetlana Didorenko
Special Thanks to
Aaron Kuhn
Aaron Levit
Anat Lieber
Annette Insdorf
Arnie Labaton
Avraham Burg
Bonni C. Shenk
Carol Zabar
Clelia Peña
Coalition to Save Lifta
Dafna Golan
Daniel Mandil
Dasha Rittenberg
David Leitner
Eitan Bronstein
Hillel Cohen
Ilan Shtayer
Ilana Trachtman
Isaac Schweky
Isaac Zablocki
Judith Helfand
Judy Katz
Kamila Klauzinska
Lisa K. Chanoff
Marc Kaminsky
Mucha Family
Peter Marquez
Rachel Olshin
Rifka Daum
Rivka Lieber
Sami Arshid
Seymour Wishman
Sasha Ramirez
Susan Korda
Szymon Modrzejewski
Yacoub Odeh

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