Wednesday, May 8, 2019, 7:00 p.m., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
discussing the subject of his new book
Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel
published by Verso Books
"They demolish our houses while we build theirs." This is how a Palestinian stonemason, in line at a checkpoint outside a Jerusalem suburb, described his life to Andrew Ross. Palestinian "stone men," utilising some of the best-quality dolomitic limestone deposits in the world and drawing on generations of artisanal knowledge, have built almost every state in the Middle East except their own. Today the business of quarrying, cutting, fabrication, and dressing is Palestine's largest employer and generator of revenue, supplying the construction industry in Israel, along with other Middle East countries and even more overseas.
Drawing on hundreds of interviews in Palestine and Israel, Ross’s engrossing, surprising, and gracefully written story of this fascinating ancient trade shows how the stones of Palestine, and Palestinian labour, have been used to build out the state of Israel—in the process, constructing “facts on the ground”—even while the industry is central to Palestinians’ own efforts to erect bulwarks against the Occupation. For decades, the hands that built Israel’s houses, schools, offices, bridges, and even its separation barriers have been Palestinian. Looking at the Palestine–Israel conflict in a new light, this book asks how this record of achievement and labour be recognised.
Andrew Ross is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University and a social activist. A contributor to the Nation, Village Voice, New York Times, and Artforum, he is the author of many books, including, most recently, Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City and Nice Work if You Get It: Life and Labor in Precarious Times. He lives in New York.
Praise for Stone Men:
“Meet 'Michelangelo of Beit Fajjar’ and the other Palestinian stone-masons whose superb craft has fashioned Israel’s famous 'white cities.’ Their hidden labor is the starting point for Ross’s brilliantly original exploration of how dispossession and exploitation continue to define the relationship of Israeli and Palestinian societies. This is radical journalism at its best—and I mean Pulitzer-Prize-quality best.”
“When a writer as original and committed as Andrew Ross turns his attention to Palestine, we know we are up for a unique set of observations. Ross uses the stone quarries of Palestine to weave a story that brings together geology, politics, military occupation, water, and environment. It is a story that is at once specific in its attention to details of matter and place and expansive as it takes us across the tragic history of this late manifestation of colonial domination.”
“Andrew Ross sheds a brilliant light on what he calls the ‘sweat equity’ of Palestinian laborers who were deprived by Israel’s system of occupation and apartheid of their land and livelihood and pushed as a result to build Israeli housing and infrastructure to survive and to resist ethnic cleansing. Ross enriches us not just with a meticulously researched dose of history and a logical argument for a postcolonial reality of ethical coexistence in historic Palestine. He takes us on a perspicacious journey of human stories, ethical arguments and socioeconomic realities, consciously refraining from speaking on behalf of Palestinians or depicting us as pitiful victims, as many well-meaning white academics still do, and thus contributing to understanding what justice in this land truly means and entails.”
“Just when you thought that there was no other way to amplify the atrocity of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, along comes Andrew Ross with Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel. Here is a refreshingly clear picture of the labour that it takes to produce and reproduce Israeli society and the Israeli occupation. Ordinary Palestinians who break and lay the stones tell Andrew Ross their stories, and he offers them to us as a gift of their resilience.”