Claremont Jewish Voice for Peace hosts Andrew Ross, recipient of Palestine Book Award, at Pitzer College

A tall man with brown hair holds a book and smiles.
Andrew Ross spoke about his new book “Stone Men: The Palestinians Who Built Israel” at Pitzer on Feb. 6. (HuxleyAnn Huefner • The Student Life)

On an average day, we might not think about who built the buildings we live in or have classes in — we don’t know who laid the bricks, who spread the mortar. 

Sociologist Andrew Ross set out to answer this question after visits to the West Bank, compiling years of research and interviews with Palestinian builders into the book “Stone Man: The Palestinians Who Built Israel,” winner of the 2019 Palestine Book Award.

Ross spoke to students and faculty at the Broad Performance Space at Pitzer College Feb. 6. Claremont Jewish Voice for Peace, a 5C student organization, invited Ross to speak about his experiences researching for his book on Palestinian laborers and the impact of the Israel-Palestine conflict on the stone industry in the region.

Ross took attendees through his research process by first recounting his experiences living in a kibbutz, an Israeli collective community, in Galilee, Israel about forty years ago. 

“In those days, it was customary for folks who lived in Europe to spend a few months at a kibbutz as part of their world travels,” Ross said.

It was there where Ross first encountered Palestinian day laborers. 

“I noted that there were two men who didn’t look like kibbutzniks, so they must be Palestinian day laborers, and indeed they were,” he recalled. “I got it into my head that I should ask them some questions: How much do you make, how much do you work, how do you feel about working in a land that very well may have been taken from your foremothers and forefathers?” 

Ross left the kibbutz shortly thereafter to continue his travels, but returned to the region 36 years later to interview Palestinian workers at checkpoints for a friends’ film about the West Bank. At this point, Ross had built up experience in labor research, having spent years interviewing South Asian migrant workers in Abu Dhabi.

Ross noted the disparity between his previous work and his research in Palestine. 

“Here I was, no longer interviewing migrant workers from another country, but interviewing migrant workers in their own land,” he said.

Through the process of assisting his friends in the creation of their film, Ross discovered that there wasn’t much research or literature on Palestinian laborers. It was then that he resolved to research the Palestinian stone industry himself, which makes up the largest share of GDP of the occupied territories.

He spoke about his research into how the conflict over territory between Israel and Palestine impacts the stone industry and laborers within it.

“There are all sorts of constraints and limitations,” Ross said. “One of them [is that] in the quarries, Palestinian producers are not allowed to use explosives. This puts them at a considerable [economic] disadvantage with other producers in the region.”

Supplementing statistical data, Ross also noted the significant emotional and psychological toll land conflicts had on Palestinian laborers.

“I took a lot of testimony about the asymmetry of power in the landscape,” Ross recalled, “and a worker once said to me, ‘We build their houses while they demolish our homes.’” 

After a comprehensive presentation of multiple perspectives and information about the unique position of Palestinian laborers, Ross ended the presentation with a poignant quote from a Palestinian laborer he interviewed: “I’ve been building homes everyday over there for thirty years. In a way, it’s really my country too, isn’t it?”

Rachel Marandett PO ’20, founder and president of the 5Cs chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, organized the event in collaboration with the group’s faculty advisor, Pitzer College professor of anthropology and history Daniel Segal.

Jewish Voice for Peace is a national organization that opposes anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry and oppression. 

“JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; an end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East,” according to their mission statement.

“We thought that having [Ross] come speak to the campus and broader Claremont community would be a great way to open lines of discourse about the concrete effect the occupation and conflict has on the daily lives and livelihoods of Palestinians,” Marandett said.

Further, Segal said he hoped the event could illuminate the legacies and lives lived by Palestinians. 

As a teacher, I hope 5C students, faculty and staff — including myself — will gain further and nuanced understanding of the histories and lived experiences of Palestinians, in relation to the formation of the Israeli state,” he said.

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