December 9, 2009

How Crowded is Gaza?

Like almost everyone who has written about the Arab-Israeli conflict, I've described Gaza as one of the most densely populated places on earth. It's one of those "media facts" that get mindlessly repeated because it has been printed so many times it seems true, like it's the sort of thing everybody just knows.

Maybe it's time to lay this one to rest.

(Thanks to Roger L. Simon for finding this video.)

UPDATE: Martin Kramer has more, including interesting visiual comparisons of Gaza to New York, Paris, and London.

Gaza on New York.jpg

1.5 million people live in Gaza. How many more millions do you suppose live in the Gaza-sized space in New York shown above?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at December 9, 2009 12:29 AM
Comments

Well, Gaza is not teeming with skyscrapers and so naturally a lot of space is wasted (and a lot of fun too as there are not so many high buildings there for the Palis to entertain themselves with throwing each other off towers). So dry numbers don't allow for adequate comparison between Gaza and other high population density strips.

Interestingly I remember once talking to a settler from Gaza and asking him if he did not see a problem with them living in spacious settlements while the Palis are sitting on shoulders of each other for the lack of space (that was before the pullout). The man said that it was not like this when they first came there, but over the next decades Gaza's elevated birth rate has made the strip running out of space.

Posted by: NB Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 3:07 AM

What is the point of this video exactly? To illustrate that pop density alone is not the sole cause of terrorism and chaos? Why hello there straw man!

"I guess we should be seeing lots of terror attacks from Monaco any day now!" yuk yuk yuk. Yeah, and I guess Rush Limbaugh was robbing liquor stores every other day too, right? 'cause we all know that drug addicts are violent criminals. amirite?

I suppose we can debate the impact of such density, but I think everyone can agree that it certainly doesn't improve the situation. However, this video is just shameless. 4 cherry-picked photographs that have zero people in them, really? So Gaza is a ghost town? is that the point? The segue into terror-camp images is nice touch too. Why not just add few pics of the smoldering WTC while we're at it?

For perspective, check this out:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population_density

The video's author points out that Gaza ranks 6th. That list at wikipedia includes 239 entries. Japan is #36, and by all accounts is pretty densely populated, right? Only 874 ppl/sq.mile.

I like your writing and mostly agree with your perspectives, Michael. But really, what was the point of this post? That Gaza isn't very densely populated? That it is possible to take a few pictures with no people in frame? Well, what then?

Posted by: Chris Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 6:41 AM

Back in September 2009, Z-word blog published a fully detailed analysis debunking the overcrowding myth in Gaza. Here is the conclusion:

"So, the “Palestinian territories” are not one the most populated places on the planet.
The Gaza Strip is not one of the most populated places in the world.
Nor Gaza city is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
And not even Gaza refugee camps which house a small percentage of the Palestinian population are unique in this respect either. A villa miseria in Buenos Aires, Argentina is as densely populated as them. A villa miseria in Brasil, or Mexico or Venezuela or India is several times more densely populated than a Palestinian refugee camp.

But why, you may and should ask, are the Palestinians in Gaza still living in refugee camps, when Israel has not been in control of the territory between 1949 to 1967 and again since august 2005? Now that the Palestinians are in full control of the territory,how come do refugee camps for Palestinians exist in the territory that Palestinians rule? Why is a noticeable percentage of their population still living in relative overcrowding if there are enough empty spaces in the Gaza strip to create model neighborhoods and tall buildings? Ask the UNRWA and ask Hamas."

http://blog.z-word.com/2009/09/gaza-the-overcrowding-myth/

Posted by: Noga Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 6:55 AM

Yeah, it's largely a matter of how it's used, what external resources they have access to, etc. Population per square km alone means nearly nothing. People envision Hong Kong as nothing but urban sprawl, but 75% of its landmass is undeveloped. (Can you say the same of the area you live in?) Still, if China shut off the water supply, Hong Kong would cease to function. Likewise, if Israel shut off the water supply, Gaza would be plunged into disarray, but they haven't.

Posted by: calbear Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 10:12 AM

Chris: What is the point of this video exactly?

That Gaza isn't even remotely "the most densely populated place" in the world.

I posted this because it's one of journalism's urban myths that needs to die. I've propagated the myth myself, so you might say I'm obligated to address this.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 11:01 AM

So...the claim that Gaza is one of the most densely-populated places on earth is rebutted by a list showing Gaza as...the sixth most densely-populated place on earth.

Truly an airtight rebuttal, which must be why Michael Totten has very skillfully and non-obviously changed the claim in the comments, so that it now appears in his comment as "the most densely populated place on earth." Begone, inconvenient "one of"!

Posted by: JJE Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 11:52 AM

JJE,

Where on earth do you get the idea that it's the sixth most densely populated place in the world? Because it was compared in the video to five other places instead of seven?

Follow the link to Martin Kramer's place and look at his comparison to three other places in the world that are vastly more dense.

It's obvious now that I look at the maps and population statistics that Kramer provided that my own city of Portland, Oregon, is more dense than Gaza. So is Seattle, Minneapolis, etc. I can do this all day.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 12:05 PM

Because it was compared in the video to five other places instead of seven?

Uh, yes. Presumably if it was 18th on the list the video would have noted that. But perhaps it was my error in assuming a stupid propaganda video would be executed with a minimum of competence.

I look at the maps and population statistics that Kramer provided that my own city of Portland, Oregon, is more dense than Gaza. So is Seattle, Minneapolis, etc.

Uh, no. Population density of Portland: 1,655.31/sq. km.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland,_Oregon

Seattle: 2,755.2/sq. km.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle

Minneapolis: 2,595/sq. km.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minneapolis

All lower population densities than the 3,823/sq. km. the video states for Gaza.

I can do this all day.

Well you certainly can, but I don't see why you would want to spend the rest of the day making false and stupid claims.

Posted by: JJE Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 12:20 PM

JJE,

I see I did my math wrong by computing metro populations with city area sizes. Either way, did you look at Kramer's maps? I just posted the one of New York in the main blog entry so you don't have to click the link.

According to Wikipedia, New York City is two and a half times more dense than Gaza. Chicago is also more dense.

Initial errors aside, I really can do this all day. But I have real work to do, so I won't.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 12:30 PM

If you feel such an obligation, I think you could do much better than this poor video. It falls embarrassingly short on both style and substance.

Of course Gaza isn't "the most densely populated place in the world". The figures themselves bear that out. Divide 1.5mil by 360sq.km. But no matter how you slice it, that's a rather hefty number of people in a relatively small area. Is it more dense than NYC or Paris? Of course not, nor could it ever be if you take the vertical aspect into account.

But in any case, so what? Does anyone seriously believe that Gaza's problems are a function of its pop density? I guess my issue here is that video just seems like agitprop beating up a straw man, and I'm used to seeing more depth in your posts. That is all... carry on.

Posted by: Chris Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 12:35 PM

Also, isn't it slightly, maybe, perhaps, just a teensieweensie bit myopic to compare Gaza to NYC? The largest and arguably most successful city in the history of what is arguably the most successful nation in history... VS what is probably the most troubled and chaotic province in the most trouble and chaotic region in the world. Just sayin'...

Posted by: Chris Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 12:48 PM

Chris,

Fine then, compare it to Baghdad.

Gaza is less dense than Baghdad. And no one ever refers to Baghdad as one of the most densely populated places on earth.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 12:54 PM

Er, isn't New York considered "one of the most densely populated places on earth." Showing that Gaza's density is lower than New York's does not show that Gaza is not also one of the most densely populated places, it just shows that it is not the most densely populated places. This is not the claim the video pretends to knock down, nor the one you claim to knock down in the post, although you change it in the comments.

Anyway, a better apples-to-apples comparison would be to compare Manhattan and Chicago to Gaza City, not Gaza. When we do that, we see that Gaza City is about half the PD of Manhattan and slightly higher than Chicago's.

Posted by: JJE Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 12:58 PM

It's also less dense than Beirut, and drastically less dense than Cairo.

I could get snarky and say it's one of the least densely populated places in the Middle East.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 1:01 PM
Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 1:01 PM I could get snarky and say it's one of the least densely populated places in the Middle East.

I think you should get a lot snarkier than that. Imagine the panic compounds itself as you systematically debunk Jew-killing excuse after Jew-killing excuse.

We know it's not available real estate.
We know it's not funding - ok, cash handouts, actually.
We know many examples of peoples much worse off who don't create a culture of genocide.
JJE and Chris need to explain that away.

Posted by: Li'l Mamzer Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 2:20 PM

I think you have me confused with someone else. What do I need to explain away? I've maintained all along that PD is completely meaningless in this context. My only point was that the video Michael highlighted is rather pathetic. I read his blog because I find his stories and interviews to be more than typical us-them, right-left reflexive BS. JJE is correct to call this a propaganda video. I have read Michael's blog for close to 3 years. I have donated to his PayPal. However I seldom post comments, but I did today because I found this post to be silly and counterproductive. Sue me.

Posted by: Chris Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 2:38 PM

Maybe it is sily and counterproductive! I'm spending 99 percent of my mental energy on my book this week, trying to finish a key chapter so I can send what I have to my agent and possibly get an actual contract signed in the near future with an interested publisher. I shouldn't even waste time posting comments at all.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 2:44 PM

However I seldom post comments, but I did today because I found this post to be silly and counterproductive. Sue me.

Right on cue.

Counterproductive for your argument, perhaps. And perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

Posted by: Li'l Mamzer Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 2:45 PM
People envision Hong Kong as nothing but urban sprawl, but 75% of its landmass is undeveloped. (Can you say the same of the area you live in?) Still, if China shut off the water supply, Hong Kong would cease to function. Likewise, if Israel shut off the water supply, Gaza would be plunged into disarray, but they haven't. Posted by: calbear
I live in TA actually. We are getting quite a lot of skyscrapers here recently.

As to Gaza, yes. Water is running out and the strip can't feed itself. This does not spell a catastrophe on itself, but unlike Singapore/Hong Kong, fertility in Gaza is still something like 5-6 children per woman and the population is overwhelmingly young (Singapore and Hong Kong actually have the lowest TFRs on the planet). So the demographic explosion will be going for at least another 20-30 years and I am saying this on assumption that by the end of the next decade the TFR will get to 2-3. Many would say that this is an unreasonably optimistic expectation. The bottom line: Wait with this Gaza is the most overcrowded place on the planet debate. We are not even close to the end of the story.

Posted by: NB Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 3:46 PM

Re: calbear's mention of Hong Kong:
...I lived in Kowloon Tong near Kai Tak airport where I worked six years for an airline called Civil Air Transport during the 1960's. In those days it was thought that we had a population of about 6 millions...no one really knew because of the stifling influx of refugees from the Mainland. There was a refugee squatters' camp about two hundred yards from my flat and when a light breeze brought their unwashed body odors over my neighborhood, it was noticeable. Believe, me, it was claustophobic, even with those "undeveloped" areas....which are primarily mountainous and not suitable for urban style living. That's why they remain "undeveloped" to this day, and the new high rises (unbelievable in my day) seen in modern day aerial views are in fact built upon re-claimed (landfill) land built out into the harbor, as was Kai Tak Airport itself, even then.
RE: water supply....Hong Kong as a British Crown Colony then relied upon typhoons for water. One year we had no rainy season and the cachement areas had grass growing down the sides, and the few resevoirs were receding daily. During the best of times we only had 24 hour running water after a typhoon. During that worst of times we residents had four hours of running water every fourth day....every fourth day...for all purposes...all purposes. I don't recall what the Red Chinese were charging the British for water...but it was more than the British could afford, hence our close ration.
....
I've never been to Gaza, but we don't read of comparable living situations there. Those we do read are colored by those writing to pressure the Israelis who .....resent being mortared and rocketed from Gaza. Lets keep things in perspective.

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 6:33 PM

The point is as Michael has said quite plainly is to disspell the myth of overcrowding in the Gaza strip.
This myth as well as others such as shortages (of food, clothing etc), have been touted by many as the cause of terrorism as well as a hammer with which to strike at Israelis as evil oppressors.
The photos of children, so them to be well-dressed wearing the latest fashions from Nike and Adidas. The stores are well stocked and people look pretty well fed.
There is a thriving smuggling trade through Egypt with many becoming very rich from it.
If there are shortages of building material and cash, then look to Hamas who are only too happy to abscond with the monies donated to build their rockets and buy weapons instead of building a society.
If they would put their entrepeneurial endevours to building an infrastructure instead of trying to commit genocide, then maybe more people would have respect for them.
If they would stop their infernal whining about how everything is somebody else's fault and stop their eternal victimhood, then maybe something positive would happen.
The crowding of Gaza really is a myth but maybe Hamas just wants a little Lebehnsraum.
It reminds my of the old SNL skit with Bill Murray as the medieval barber. Why move into the 21st century when you can live in the 12th.

Posted by: JB Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 7:25 PM

I think you're thinking of Steve Martin. The role was "Theodoric of York".

Posted by: gus3 Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 9:41 PM

"But in any case, so what?"

Because "overcrowded Gaza" is used by the press to demonize Israel and they keep making up stuff to do so (al-Dura, Jenin "massacre" etc. ad nauseam), that's what.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at December 9, 2009 11:53 PM
Because "overcrowded Gaza" is used by the press to demonize Israel and they keep making up stuff to do so (al-Dura, Jenin "massacre" etc. ad nauseam), that's what.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

According to the early posters on this thread, the iconic Israel-bashing meme is sacred and should never even be questioned.

Posted by: Li'l Mamzer Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 2:51 AM

On population growth, the key factor in falling birth rates in many countries seems to be women's education. So encouraging educational opportunities for Palestinian women would be a good thing, maybe?

Posted by: kellie Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 4:14 AM

You're right, Gus3.
I couldn't recall for certain who it was and all I could think of was Bill Murray.
However, Martin's sentiments in the role are quite a propos of Palestinian attitudes.
The world has changed and matured. Why act responsibly when you can get away with being an eternal child and acting like a spoiled one.

Posted by: JB Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 6:40 AM

Given your earlier mistakes and your inability to figure out which claim you're knocking down, I'm afraid it would be unwise your statements about Beirut and Cairo. By raising them, you're also continuing to ignore the distinction between cities and larger geographic areas that I pointed out. It's almost as if this is a rather transparent attempt to push a particular agenda rather than the attempt to correct the MSM it purports to be.

Posted by: JJE Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 7:30 AM

Also, if you want to make your point vis a vis New York I'd recommend shifting that map so it doesn't extend all the way to freaking Scarsdale. If you just move it down and rotate it a bit counter-clockwise you can replace those areas with Brooklyn and Queens.

Posted by: JJE Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 7:33 AM

While I agree that the video is a bit agitprop, it does, as Michael argues, illustrate an important point about the off-repeated "fact" that Gaza is the most populated place in the world. It isn't.

If you haven't yet, download Google Earth and "visit" Israel and the Palestinian territories. From an altitude of 40,000ft (although you can zoom in lower), it's possible to distinguish populated areas from farm land and open land. You'll see that the Gaza Strip is no more densely populated than Israel is along its narrow coastal plain. Further, if you visit the West Bank you'll note the significant open tracks of land.

What's also cool about Google Earth is that it helps one to understand not just the issue of borders, but also topography, which plays an important role.

Posted by: Semite5000 Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 10:07 AM

I just did a bit of research comparing Gaza to the most obviously "densely populated" place I've ever lived.

Gaza:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaza_Strip

It is about 41 kilometers (25 mi) long, and between 6 and 12 kilometers (4–7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of 360 square kilometers (*139 square miles*).

...The population is Palestinian and is estimated at about 1.5 million (July 2009)...

Manhattan Island:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan

The County of New York is the most densely populated county in the United States, and one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with a 2008 population of 1,634,795 living in a land area of 22.96 square miles (59.47 km²)

Gaza and Manhattan have the same population. However, Gaza is more than 5 times larger in area. Meaning, presumably, that Gaza has only 1/5th the population density of Manhattan. A pretty substantial difference.

If somebody wants to argue that isn't relevant, I'll be happy to try to come up with a comparison to New Jersey as well, which is also a place I've lived and which is the most densely populated state in the US.

Looking at the population and the area it seems somebody would have to be engaging in some creative math to argue that Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world. It doesn't even come close.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 11:31 AM

Strange as it sounds, I have also argued that Gaza isn't that crowded and gotten attacked for it.

My hope is that Gaza can become another Dubai or Hong Kong, which large high rises, a large international trading port, and large international airport; amazing research universities and institutions; and a booming high tech sector. A major concentration of Venture Capital, entrepreneurship, research and I Banking. Because of its proximity to both Israel and Egypt, Gaza could benefit greatly from free trade, free investment, free immigration, free travel, and collaboration on product and business development with Israel and Egypt.

I have heard that the Gazans highly value education and health care (having a life expectancy in the mid 70s per year); and could enormously benefit Israel and the region.

This is why Israel should end sanctions against Gaza, and encourage trade, investment, business collaboration, tourism, and cross border work permits with Gaza.

Many Gazans feel that Israel doesn't want them to have a successful private sector; and is trying to block the rise of Gaza. I think the Gazans have a point.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 1:32 PM

"This is why Israel should end sanctions against Gaza, and encourage trade, investment, business collaboration, tourism, and cross border work permits with Gaza."

Anand, you state all of these wonderful things Gaza could become, but then conclude that in order to get there, Israel should end the sanctions. Did it ever occur to you that perhaps the first step ought to be that the Gazans cease smuggling massive amounts of missiles to strike Israel with? After all, that's what necessitated sanctions in the first place.

Posted by: Semite5000 Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 2:48 PM

Following anand and S-5000, presumably not all Gazans are engaged in smuggling weapons. Sanctions don't seem to have stopped weapons, but they have severely curtailed preferable alternative occupations. Use of overwhelming military force seems more effective than sanctions for stopping rocket attacks, and that hammer would remain in the toolbox if sanctions were eased.

Posted by: kellie Author Profile Page at December 10, 2009 3:22 PM

Its more than smuggling weapons. The Gazans have to start facing reality if they ever want to achieve "their potential"
That means getting rid of Hamas and their genocidal aims, building a society that allows freedom of thought and an education system that doesn't teach hatred, genocide and martyrdom.
There's a lot more and you already know it, Anand!
There is no pie in the sky here.
If they want to be self-delusional, self-pitying and self-destructive, then they only have themselves to blame... oh and maybe those idiots on the left who are egging them on.

Posted by: JB Author Profile Page at December 11, 2009 6:51 AM

Gaza is crowded, and getting more crowded, but it's not the 'most crowded' AND, most important, being crowded is not such a bad thing.

Civilization is based on organization. While Ayn Rand is not wrong about Greed driving capitalism, she and even most Free Marketeers miss the main reason free market capitalism is so successful.

Peace.

Peaceful agreement AND peaceful disagreement.
What Gaza needs, which could be provided by Gazans alone w/o help of Israel or anybody outside Gaza, is a Peaceful Market. One where folks are free to buy or not, as they choose, without being forced.

The point of the video/ anti-"too crowded" propaganda is to focus more on the responsibility of the Gazans for their own poverty.

The contrast with the West Bank will likely become increasingly clear -- peaceful commerce leads to better living. Hamas doesn't like that, tho.

A possible near/mid-term change is for there to be a split between Gaza and the West Bank, with the West Bank getting peace with Israel, and continued faster economic growth. Probably even faster than Hezbollah S. Lebanon.

Gaza is big enough to be its own state. Previously there has been silly talk about 'minimum size' of a state. There is almost no minimum size, if the neighbors are willing to respect the borders.
I wish that the West Bank would declare itself an independent state, without Gaza. Then have new elections.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad Author Profile Page at December 12, 2009 7:53 AM
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