Thursday, October 06, 2005


On Population Density (and other things)

Well, this is interesting:
On the eve of the Jewish New Year, the Central Bureau of Statistics always publishes the latest figures regarding Israel’s population, its composition, and its distribution. This year, the reporters even gave us the bottom line: It’s crowded around here. Indeed, Israel is one of the most crowded countries in the world.
The statistics in question are probably the same ones referred to here:
At the end of 2004, the population of Israel consisted of 6,869,500 people, constituting a rise of 1.8 percent, the same rate of increase as the year before.
Israel’s population density stands at 300 people per sq. km in the entire country with 1,900 people/sq. km in the central region, while the south has a population density of 70 people/sq. km. The general population density is very high compared to many other countries, including Slovenia (98) and Switzerland (62), but lower than others, such as Belgium (338). In some of the major cities, the density is particularly high: Tel Aviv-Yafo has 7,170 people/sq. km; Jerusalem has 5,642; and Haifa has 4,211. Topping the list is Bnei Brak, with 19,500 people living on every square kilometer.
Back to the original article:
This fact wasn’t a military secret before, but until now it wasn’t politically correct to talk about Jewish population density, because the most common and baseless cliché that accompanies the disengagement’s public relations campaign was that “the Gaza Strip is the most crowded place in the world.”

...this cliché was important in order to make us sick and tired of Gaza. But now, after the destruction of Jewish settlements there, we are allowed to find out that not the Gaza Strip, but rather, central Israel is one of the most densely population areas in the world. In fact, it is four or five times more crowded than the Gaza Strip, and by the way, it’s not a bad place to live in.

But even now that we’re allowed to say that it’s very crowded around here, it’s still not nice to seriously consider the implication of this figure, and we certainly mustn’t mention the primitive conclusion that stems from it: The Jews don’t have enough land.

Their country is so small, that in most world maps Israel’s name is written on the sea, because it’s not big enough to accommodate six letters.

We make up about two and a half percent of the Middle Eastern population. We don’t even have a quarter of a percent of the land in the Middle East.
As we'll see in a moment, these conclusions don't quite hold up.

To cite actual figures, the Gaza Strip is 360 square kilometers in size. The size of the Palestinian population there is a matter of some dispute; the CIA World Factbook (link above) cites the figure 1,376,289, while other sources give a figure of 750,000 (date unknown).
The Municipality of Gaza website lists a total population for the Gaza Strip (of Palestinians aged five and older) of 802,218, accurate to December 1997. This casts doubt on the 1,376,289 figure; I can't imagine the Palestinians increasing their population by almost 75% in only eight years (an average 7% annual growth). Wikipedia claims 4% annual growth; projecting that forward from 1997 would give us a figure of about 1,098,000 people today, meaning a population density of 3,050 people per sq. km in the Gaza Strip -- higher than Central Israel (1900 people per

Figures for Gaza City are even harder to come by.
Population figures for Gaza City itself vary widely, from below 400,000 to over 500,000. The abovementioned Municipality of Gaza website claims 400,000, and a size for Gaza City itself of 45 sq. km, for a population density somewhat higher than Tel Aviv-Yafo but less than half that of Bnei-Brak.

In other words, Israel is certainly not "the most densely populated area in the world". On the other hand, the article is correct to say that Gaza's claim to that title is rather dubious too.

Speaking of military matters, by the way, and of the withdrawal from Gaza, the IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, was interviewed recently on terror and the IDF's response to it. He was pleasantly upbeat about it:
Rejecting the argument that Israel must reach a political accommodation with the Palestinians to reduce terrorism to manageable proportions, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz has told The Jerusalem Post that there is a military solution to terrorism and that Israel is well on the way to achieving it.

He said he couldn't expect to reach a level of terrorism at "absolute zero" because "nothing in life can be brought to absolute zero." But the thesis that there was no military answer to terrorism, he insisted, was wrong and demonstrably so. It had been disproved by the British in Malaysia, he said, and more recently in Ireland.

The IDF was now disproving it in the Palestinian context, where there had been a steady decline in incidents in recent years – not for lack of motivation, but rather because of the policies that the army had been following and continues to follow, he said.

Halutz added that he did not believe this trend would be undermined by the pullout from Gaza.

"That's not to say that the Gaza pullout won't lead [Palestinian terror groups] to try to escalate terrorism," he cautioned. "But [the pullout] won't harm our ability to counter it."
By all means, read the whole thing.

UPDATE: The initial point above has been rewritten to incorporate more figures. I had based my initial calculations for Gaza on the CIA World Factbook, whose figures I now have reason to doubt. Many thanks to Galit for her pointers on this.

UPDATE II: David Boxenhorn of Rishon Rishon adds his own thoughts to the question of "how bad is Gaza?"... and adds that young Egyptian women seem to be seeking out Gaza-based husbands, presumably because life in Gaza is an improvement for them over Egypt. Interesting!


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