Foundations of Inequality: Construction, Political Economy, Race, and the Body in Palestine/Israel, 1918-1973

Nimrod Ben-Zeev, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

This dissertation is a history of construction work and the construction industry in twentieth-century Palestine/Israel, from British rule after World War I, through the first twenty-five years of Israeli statehood and Palestinians’ ongoing Nakba (catastrophe). It is primarily a study of the relationship between the history of construction work and the construction industry in the literal sense, and between social and cultural processes frequently understood through construction as metaphor: nation- and state-building, and the construction of social difference. The dissertation examines these histories of construction in Israel/Palestine through multiple lenses, combining histories of labor, the body and the senses, race, political economy, and material culture. It analyzes the shifts from Zionist-Palestinian competition over work, resources and production under the British Mandate; through the transformation of the construction industry’s workforce into one based on marginalized and racialized Mizrahi Jews (Jews from Muslim lands), and Palestinian citizens in Israel in the decades following Israel’s establishment and the Nakba in 1948. I trace these shifts and their implications using sources from archives in Israel/Palestine, the United Kingdom, and the United States, newspapers, literature, film, workers’ songs, trade publications, and oral history interviews. The dissertation argues that political economy, ecology, and culture alike made cement factories, quarries, construction sites, and workers’ bodies into sites of Zionist and Palestinian nation-building, conflict, domination, and resistance. Meanwhile, workers’ and their communities’ use and understanding of these sites often defied and challenged an increasingly racialized and nationalist social order. Construction work and the construction industry thus played a pivotal role in the formation of racialized social hierarchies within Palestine/Israel.

Subject Area

History|Middle Eastern history|Middle Eastern Studies

Recommended Citation

Ben-Zeev, Nimrod, "Foundations of Inequality: Construction, Political Economy, Race, and the Body in Palestine/Israel, 1918-1973" (2020). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI28086158.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI28086158

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