Sunday, January 20, 2008

Numbers ...

A couple of years ago a group of Israeli and American researchers released a controversial report on the demographics of the West Bank and Gaza.  The group, AIDRG, claimed that the official population estimates of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics were grossly exaggerated.

Basing their argument on a number of factors — double counting of populations, inclusion of foreign residents, overestimation of births and immigration — they contended that the Arab population in the West Bank and Gaza is actually 1.5 million less than suggested by the Palestinian Authority, 2.5 million instead of 3.8.

I don't want to discuss the validity of their arguments.  I am not a demographer and I can't offer an informed opinion on the matter.

I can say, as a reasonably intelligent person, that the arguments they make seem logical and possible.  The Palestinian Authority has never been known as a bastion of accountability or truthfulness, and it wouldn't surprise me if they had inflated their population numbers.  I also happen to personally know one of the researchers, giving me more reason to trust their results.

But I do have a reason for discussing this two year old report today.  I mentioned it to my coworker the other day during a conversation on politics and the situation here in Israel.  My coworker happens to be an officer in the IDF and served a fair bit of time in the West Bank.

I mentioned the report to him to see what he thought.  When I mentioned the numbers involved he nodded his head in agreement.

"That makes sense," he said.  "The IDF sees the Palestinian population at about 2.5 million.  That's the number we use when we plan operations for the territories."

He said this in a very casual way, as if this were no major revelation.  I was stunned, since 1.5 million people is an incredible number.  That these people could simply vanish is frightening in the implications for this region.  The conflict in this part of the world is more about perception than anything else.  Figuring out just how many people are involved in this conflict will go a long way towards bringing perception in line with reality.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Why Take them THERE?

So I was walking to the bus today near the intersection of Allenby and Rothschild when I noticed a group of Birthright kids getting off their bus. I thought Allenby was a strange place to take a bunch of young Americans, but I figured they had simply parked there and were going to explore Rothschild.

To my surprise they started walking the other way, in the direction of Yehuda Ha-Levy. As the bus was pulling away I noticed a group of them grabbing some lunch at a bakery where Allenby intersects with Yehuda Ha-Levy.

What, are we trying to scare the crap out of these kids? Is Birthright choosing the grimy and dirty parts of Tel Aviv over the nice parts? I just don't get it. Rothschild was two steps away with all its cafes and pretty buildings and yet some madrich pointed these kids in the opposite direction.

This is just another example of a larger problem. I once heard a friend complain that the new Terminal at Ben Gurion Airport was too nice, to clean, and to high tech. Israelis are constantly saying that the recent progress here isn't real and that everything is dysfunctional. I think Israelis have some sentimental attachment to their country being a poor and underdeveloped place. They feel they have to show the poverty that exists because somehow that is more "real."

To me that's BS. G-d forbid anyone should see the potential in this place. We wouldn't want anyone to think that this city and this country could become beautiful and prosperous. No, because if that happened the Israelis would have to learn to stop complaining about everything that happens here.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

It's Raining Outside ...

The raindrops are falling outside. It's dark, as it should be at two in the morning. My wife is sitting next to me on the couch.

The rain is a good thing. Sitting next to my wife is a good thing. The darkness outside ... well I don't think I'll ever really get used to it.