Gaza is NOT one of the densest places on Earth†
The first time I visited Gaza, in 1990, I expected to see skyscrapers and multi-storey slums as I had seen in Hong Kong and Bangkok. It was common knowledge that Gaza was the most densely populated place on Earth, wasn’t it?
Instead I was amazed by miles and miles of miles of miles of nothing on the way to Gaza City. There were small shacks where fishermen and struggling farmers lived, probably temporarily but nothing to justify the most densely populated tag. Gaza City, at least the villas close to Israel Interior Ministry compound gave no sign. In fact nothing I saw gave any indication that Gaza at its most crowded was any more dense than the Western Sydney suburb I had lived half my life.
Surprisingly it took many years before I (and others ) did the simple maths.
Let’s put things into perspective
Taking figures from BBC sources, Gaza, population of 1.4 million living on a land area of 365 km2 has a density of 3,836 persons per square kilometre. To help you get an idea of how big that is, 360 sq. km is precisely the same area as the city of Montreal. That gives it a population density about 16% of ‘hotspots’ Monaco (23,660 per km2) and 22% of Macau (17,699 per km2). It also falls behind Hong Kong (6,407 per km2); Singapore (6,200 per km2) and Gibraltar (4,654 per km2).
If we consider urban population density, as we should, Gaza is less crowded than London (4,699 per km²) or Portsmouth (4,689 per km²) and just about any major city you could name. Ironically, Israeli cities Tel Aviv (7,445 per km2) and Bnai Brak (20,076 per km2) are far denser than Gaza although no one would consider that extraordinary, as similar figures are so common.
Using only the Wikipedia listing of urban population density we find that at least 114 cities are more crowded than the Gaza Strip. That 114 figure does not include districts within those cities although the expression ‘places’ would allow them to be taken into account. For your interest Malé in the Maldives is twelve times denser than the Gaza Strip. The district of Freguesia de Santo Antonio (98,776 per km²) in Macau has about twenty-six times the population of the Gaza Strip.
It doesn’t look even as dense as my hometown
That’s not even surprising. Research at Bar Ilan University‡ has shown that the population figures for the territories may be exaggerated by a million people – about 330,000 for Gaza – due to including non-residents, double counting Arabs living in Jerusalem and just plain cheating.
Even the BBC has dropped the one of the most crowded populations in the world myth, for the most part …
But not the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine!
Does it matter?
We believe it does. Behind the ‘most crowded’ myth is a sort of Mathusian†† symbolism. The Gazans are the way they are because overcrowding makes them angry. Not Nationalist or Islamic incitement. Not Iranian, Libyan or UNRWA money reducing incentive to create a just, prosperous society with their own hands. That other places have equal or higher population in the same relative area and they aren’t blowing themselves up with explosive belts of attacking their neighbours with rockets is never mentioned.
There is also an issue of accuracy as a virtue in itself.
What can we do?
Normally Five Minutes for Israel ignores UNRWA as a self-perpetuating, part-of-the-problem, lost case. However a letter writing campaign (the website doesn’t provide email) could force this small correction. It could also irritate the hell out of the UN bureaucrats – not a bad thing.
Write to UNRWA Representative Office, New York
Director, UNRWA Representative Office – Andrew Whitley
One United Nations Plaza, Room DC1-1265, New York, NY 10017, USA
† Talking about population density not intelligence
‡ Bennett Zimmerman, Roberta Seid and Michael L. Wise, The Million Person Gap: The Arab Population in the West Bank and Gaza THE BEGIN-SADAT CENTER FOR STRATEGIC STUDIES, Bar-Ilan University, Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 65
†† “Yet in all societies, even those that are most vicious, the tendency to a virtuous attachment is so strong that there is a constant effort towards an increase of population. This constant effort as constantly tends to subject the lower classes of the society to distress and to prevent any great permanent amelioration of their condition”.
Malthus T.R. 1798. An essay on the principle of population. Chapter II, p18 in Oxford World’s Classics reprint.