Andrew Ross

 

On his book Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel

Cover Interview of October 22, 2019

The wide angle

Why did I write the book? I was surprised to find that there is no published study of this stone industry, which is the largest private sector employer in the West Bank and generates the most GDP and exports from the Occupied Territories. Nor is there very much literature on Palestinian livelihoods. Palestine-watchers are focused on other things—land theft, demolitions, population displacement, soldier brutality, mass incarceration, the spread of settlements—and all for very good reasons. As a result, perhaps, there is less knowledge about what working-class people, especially, do to put food on the table every day for their families. I wanted to help fill that gap in attention, and felt that, as a sometime labor ethnographer, I could contribute something useful.

In addition to the stone and construction workers, I also interviewed a range of company owners, officials in the new trade unions in the West Bank and Israel, and engineers and architects involved in restoring Palestinian built heritage (at Riwaq, Bethlehem’s Center for Cultural Heritage Preservation and Taawon’s Old City Revitalization Project). The book also features some case studies: two national-level building projects in the West Bank (Rawabi and the Palestinian Cement Factory), and, in Jaffa, an analysis of what I call Ottomania—or gentrifiers’ new appetite for vintage décor and buildings in all that remains of the old city.

I also wanted to make room for some larger arguments about the history of Israel/Palestine and why we should be promoting full civil and political rights for all who live in the territories “between the river and the sea,” and whose ancestral lands are located there. So another part of the book reviews the history of employment in the construction industry, from the last decade of the Ottoman era through the Mandate, and then after the Nakba and Naksa—to confirm the decisive role played by Palestinian laborers and masons in the building of houses and infrastructure.