About 15 minutes by foot from Jerusalem, lies the stunning, abandoned village of Lifta. I’ve heard about it before, but have never gone to this place. Three days before Israel’s second coronavirus lockdown, I decided to join a friend on a hike from Lifta to Motsa Junction. This 8-km trail is amazing and includes a natural water spring, ancient buildings, lots of prickly pears, and outstanding natural surroundings. It took us about four hours to complete at an easy-going pace. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem, you can always hike down to Lifta, enjoy the quietness, and add some outstanding pics to your social media!
Let’s start with some history:
There are some who recognize Lifta as the biblical town of Mei Naftoach. Archeological findings suggest that it was first inhabited almost 4,000 years ago. In the Ottoman era, in 1596, there were about 396 people living in the village, most of them Muslim. They paid taxes to the Jerusalem region. Later on, they sold water, vegetables, and fruits to the residents of the first Jewish neighborhoods outside Jerusalem’s Old City walls.
The next chapter in Lifta’s history is the 1948 Independence War, which is seen by the Palestinians as the Nakba, literally meaning “disaster.” This topic is a bit sensitive and controversial, because one side says that things happened in a certain way while the other side says otherwise. So, I’ll try to tell the story by presenting both sides.
In the time of the 1948 Independence War, Lifta was populated by Arab Palestinians. Palestinians, because the Romans called the land Palestine, or Palestina, more than 1500 years beforehand. To be precise, all residents of the land were Palestinians, also the Jewish people who lived there at the time, including my grand-grand-grand-grandfather. The British ruled over the land from 1917 until May 1948.
In the early days of the war, which actually started in November 30, 1947, the Jewish Haganah started deporting Arabs from the villages that encircled the western side of Jerusalem. This, in order to secure the western entrance to the city. According to the Jewish side, the residents of Lifta left in December 4, 1947, following the order of the Arab Higher Committee. Later, the village became a base for Arab snipers.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, say that the residents stayed until January 1948. The Palestinian historian Aref al-Aref claims that in December 28, 1947, the Jewish forces attacked one of the coffee houses in Lifta, causing the death of six residents. The New York Times also referred to this incident, saying that five Arabs were killed in Lifta by Jewish people who were part of the Lehi. This incident, according to Aref al-Aref, was the reason why the residents decided to abandon the village.
After the war, Lifta was inhibited by Jewish immigrants. But the residents suffered from bad conditions and poverty. The Jewish settlement in the abandoned houses of Lifta didn’t succeed and in the early 1970s, the families were moved to better houses in Jerusalem.
There’s a lot to tell about Lifta, but this isn’t a history lesson. So, if you want to learn more about this amazing place, you’re welcome to google “Lifta” and find all the interesting information. The bottom line is – Lifta was abandoned by its Arab residents during the war, and today the houses still stand abandoned.
Let’s continue with some safety instructions and general notes:
- The hike is under your responsibility, so please be careful. It is always advised to hike with at least one more person.
- Make sure you hike with good hiking shoes, have at least 1.5 liter of water, and wear a hat. You can also bring snacks for the way and of course, a garbage bag to pick up your litter and litter you find on the way. Unfortunately, the Lifta area is full of litter, which damages the beauty of the place. Let’s try to keep it as clean as possible!
- There are vast parts of the trail which are entirely exposed to the sun. Therefore, don’t attempt to hike it in very hot hours. The ideal season is spring (February-April) or fall (October-November), but if you choose to hike in the summer like we did, you should start the hike early in the morning. We started at 8:00 AM, which in my opinion wasn’t early enough.
- The trail is well-marked, but it’s always good to have a good hiking map with you.
How to get to the head of the trail?
The head of the trail is easily reached by foot from the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. From the entrance to the station, continue west on Jaffa Street towards the entrance to the city. Cross the road to the gas station on Weizman Boulevard and then continue on the road, pass the two gas stations, and cross the road once again. After crossing the road once more, you’ll see to your right a paved path, that goes downwards and is secured by a yellow railing (1). Walk down this path until you reach the bottom, where you’ll find an interesting statue (2).
Here, turn left on Nefto’akh Street and afterwards right. Continue down the road until you see a green sign of the Mei Naftoah (Lifta) Nature Reserve and the blue marking on the rock, pointing towards the trail (3).
I know that it is also possible to reach Lifta by car, but I recommend the hike. It’s short and very accessible.
The trail itself:
From the green sign, we descended down the narrow asphalt road until we reached a green gate, which blocks the entrance for vehicles. From this point, the trail turns into a stony trail. In the distance, we could see some of the abandoned houses of Lifta, which was super exciting. I was never there before, so I had no idea how this ghost town will look like. The trail is quite steep until it reaches the bottom of the valley. Then, the trail is very straight and easy to walk on. Within a few minutes we were at the village’s natural spring.
The water comes from the underground aquifer, and flows from a man-made tunnel to a man-made pool. When we arrived, we saw a Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) man immersing in the water. There are Jewish men who perform this Jewish ritual every morning in order to purify their bodies. Many do it in a mikveh, but if you can go to a natural spring, it is much better, as it is believed that the water of a natural spring is the purest of all water sources. So, if you come here and see a naked man in the water, you can assume that he is performing this Jewish ritual. We went aside to give him some privacy, and when we saw that he had left the water and dressed, we came closer. We decided not to go into the water pool, as it was quite green and not so inviting. But we did go into the water tunnel. The tunnel stretches to a length of about 60 meters and ends at a dead-end wall. The water level wasn’t high, it reached below our knees. Walking inside the tunnel is thrilling. The tunnel is well-built and very impressive. Just make sure to bring sandals for walking in the water and flashlights, as it is pitch-black inside. Your phone’s flashlight should also be enough.
We continued from the spring along the marked trail. From both sides of the trail you can see the abandoned houses of Lifta, which are quite magnificent. We left the marked trail a few times to peek into the houses, but that’s not very good as it could be dangerous. There are many pits inside the houses and some are unstable, what is quite hazardous. If you don’t want to hike all the way to Motsa Junction, you can stroll around the abandoned village of Lifta, and then make your way back to the Jerusalem Central Station. It’s a very quiet and enjoyable place on its own. We decided to continue to Motsa Junction.
Before I continue to tell about the trail, here are some fantastic views from Lifta:
So… From Lifta we continued towards Motsa Junction. This route is about 6-km long. We continued on the blue-marked trail through the houses of Lifta. On the way, we saw a lot of prickly pears and fig trees. We were there in September and the figs were quite ripe, so my friend decided to pick a few from the trees. About 10 minutes from Lifta, we arrived at a playground. The sign next to it said that we were in the Arazim Valley Park, located in the upper part of Wadi Sorek. “Sorek” in Hebrew means “fine grapes.”
After resting at the playground, we continued on the road that leads towards Tur Sinai Farm. The road is clearly marked with yellow signposts. It’s also a route for bicycles. We continued on this road until we saw a left turn onto a narrow route, that was clearly marked as a bicycle route. The truth is that at this point we decided to go see Tur Sinai Farm, so instead of turning left we continued on the road. If you want to do the proper route, you should turn left onto the bicycle route and continue on this route.
It took us quite a long time to get to Tur Sinai Farm and we didn’t really go inside. It’s an organic farm, that has a boutique hotel and resort. From there, we were somehow able to reach and merge with the blue-marked trail. But believe me, if for some reason you decide to go to the farm too, the best way to get back to the blue-marked trail is by taking the green-marked trail from the farm. Make sure to use a good map.
So, we were able to come back to the blue-marked trail. It was a dirt trail now. We continued on it for a bit until we reached an asphalt road. At this point, we turned left and followed the blue-marked trail, which continued right onto another bicycle route. There’s a signpost right next to it, with several yellow signs. The bicycle route led us below the massive train bridge, which was built here in 2016, and to Enot Telem National Park. If you have the time, you can look for the natural spring of Enot Telem. We decided to skip it because of the increasing heat.
From Enot Telem National Park, there’s about 1.5 more kilometers until Motsa. Follow the blue-marked trail. When you’ll reach a parking lot, follow the yellow sign post pointing towards Motsa (מוצא). Continue on the asphalt road until you see a tunnel to your left. That tunnel will lead you to a roundabout, where you’ll find the bus station for Jerusalem. We took bus number 154, but you can also take bus number 155 or 157. They will all take you to the Jerusalem Central Station.
How much time does the trail take? It takes about four hours to hike from Lifta to Motsa Junction, but if you only want to see Lifta, 1-2 hours should be enough.
Difficulty: Easy. The hike is quite flat. The only part that is quite steep is at the start of the trail, and it isn’t a long segement.
It is about an 8 km hike.
When is the best time to hike? February to April or October to November are always the ideal times because of the nice weather. If you hike around September you can see the ripe figs on the trees. There are also some pomegranates on the way.
I wish you a fantastic hike to Lifta and its surroundings. It’s a great hike, minutes from the city.
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Here are some more hiking trails which might interest you:
Hiked the trail in September 2020.
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