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.

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