Andrew Ross


On his book Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel

Cover Interview of October 22, 2019


My journey to this book began in Abu Dhabi, where I had been doing research, with colleagues in the Gulf Labor Coalition, on South Asian migrant workers (documented in the book The Gulf: Hard Labor/High Culture). The government did not like what we were doing there so they banned us from entering the country. Shortly thereafter, some of us re-grouped in Palestine to help make a film, and I found myself doing interviews, at the Green Line checkpoints, with people who were, in effect, migrant workers in their own land.

My decision to pursue the research was also driven by a personal effort to follow through on the BDS—Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions—resolution vote passed by my professional association, the American Studies Association, in 2014. It’s one thing to vote for such a resolution, but how do you make good on the analogy often cited as an argument for the resolution—that our discipline’s knowledge about settler colonialism in the U.S. had some intimate relevance to the ongoing record of Zionist settlement in historic Palestine? Like many others in the field, I felt a responsibility to engage further in my own research. So, too, I joined the organizing committee of USACBI, the American branch of the BDS movement.

The book was written for the general reader, so no specialist knowledge of the region is required. I am not a Middle Eastern expert myself, which makes it easier to approach readers roughly on the same level. But I also wanted to put some materials and reasoning on the table that might be useful to front line advocates of Palestinian liberation. Hence the argument I make about political sweat equity—based on the principle that building a country should translate into political rights within it. Palestinians have put in more than a century of toil building the Jewish “national home,” and most other assets on these lands. What rights accrue from that long inventory of labor, and how can this record of contributions feed into the transitional justice claims needed to bring about the one-state solution with full rights for all?