Cultural differences, labor relations, religious certainty, a knotted history of violence, political dominance, and cruel economic policies—all figure prominently in this account of the stone and building industries in Israel.
Ross (Social and Cultural Analysis/New York Univ.; Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City, 2011, etc.), a contributor to the Nation, the New York Times, and Artforum, delivers a deeply researched, passionate, pro-proletariat view of his topic. Based on interviews with businessmen, laborers, Palestinians, Israelis, and others, the text rehearses the long history of stonework in the region. The author exposes what he sees as the exploitation of Palestinian stoneworkers and points out the difficulties of those workers (getting through checkpoints each day takes hours) and how many of them are torn by the necessity to make money by building the homes of those whom they view as occupiers. He notes, as well, the lack of civil rights for the workers—and of any other benefits besides a salary, which is, as he describes, often barely adequate to sustain life. From the beginning, Ross pulls no punches, decrying the Israeli employers’ “discrimination, degradation, and exploitation.” Repeatedly, he shines light on the dark side of economic power: the deals, the political connections, the anti-union efforts. The author visited many building sites and talked with hundreds of workers, often standing in line with them at clogged checkpoints. He reports that many told him “they no longer had any dreams or hopes.” Ross also offers details about the stone deposits in the area (and a map—Bethlehem is one important site), talks about the recent “Separation Wall” (with a nod to the issues regarding a border wall in the United States), and does not see much hope.
A sturdy and depressing study in which the author’s pro-worker sympathies and empathies are clear—as are his condemnations of Israel’s (and employers’) policies.