- Title: WEST BANK: Palestinians launch first census in a decade
- Date: 26th October 2007
- Summary: (MER1) HEBRON, WEST BANK (RECENT) (REUTERS) MAYOR OF HEBRON HUSSEIN AL-ARAJ ACCOMPANIED BY MEMBERS OF PALESTINIAN CENTRAL BUREAU OF STATISTICS AS THEY TOUR THE CITY VARIOUS OF AL-ARAJ WRITING NUMBER ON HOUSE AL-ARAJ TALKING TO RESIDENTS OF HEBRON ISRAELI SOLDIER
- Embargoed: 10th November 2007 12:00
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA5LJ224VVL6H2R4V47R41G716N
- Story Text: Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza launch their second census, something which they hope will boost their chances of achieving statehood.
Palestinians have launched their first census in a decade by visiting thousands of homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the hope of boosting their bid for an independent state.
About 1,000 officials spread out across towns in Palestinian territories, drawing blue and red numbers on homes and offices ahead of a head count in December. The colourful markings will be used later to help count communities more easily.
Palestinian officials hope the first census since 1997 will lay the ground for a future independent state and bolster their position in peace talks with Israel.
Palestinians say the census will help them develop a governing strategy and give them specific data to outline needs in terms of schools, hospitals, roads and other services.
In the West Bank city of Hebron, Mayor Hussein al-Araj took to the streets with census workers from the city's Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) as they gathered information from various households and residents.
"To compile this Palestinian number, it is an important number for our leadership, it is a political and economic number which will enable us to plan for the development of our workforce, citizens, and our medical, educational and economic needs," al-Araj told reporters.
Palestinians also say the census will boost their case for for territorial demands in negotiations with Israel.
Demographics is a thorny subject for the Jewish state and Israel's concern that Palestinians could eventually outnumber Jews if Israel kept control of all the territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war was part of the thinking behind its decision to pull out of Gaza in 2005.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has cited such demographic concerns in advocating West Bank withdrawals under a future peace deal.
Some 5.4 million Jews live in Israel and their birthrate is lower than that of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens (known as Israeli Arabs) and Palestinians who live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. Some 1.4 million Arabs reside in Israel and there are 3.9 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Census-takers are also collecting information in Gaza, four months after infighting that culminated in Hamas Islamists seizing control of the coastal strip. Abbas's secular Fatah remains dominant in the bigger West Bank.
"In the first stage we only give numbers to the house and we ask for the number of family members. In the next stage, we will go into the personal and internal details of the family. It is in this stage that we expect, that we might face a lack on cooperation in some situations. But hopefully during this current stage, people will be understanding and it will go smoothly," said one PCBS worker, Mohammed Abu Yousef, after gathering information from a Hebron household.
Tawfiq Nassar, the head of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in Hebron, says restrictions imposed by Israel in the centre of Hebron, where the Israeli army is deployed around several Jewish settlements, is limiting their operations when gathering census information.
"The biggest challenge is the presence of Israeli settlements in the city which constitutes one of the main challenges we face in carrying out this big national project, especially because of the presence of settlers in middle of the city and division of the city into two parts. Because of this, as a team, we are unable to enter certain sections and reach some families and residential areas," he says.
During the last census in 1997, Israel banned a head count in Arab East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of a future state.
Palestinian census officials said East Jerusalem would be included this time around but the count there had been delayed.
Since 1997, when officials counted 2.9 million people in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians have lived through the collapse of the peace process, the outbreak of a second uprising, the construction of the West Bank barrier, and a civil war in Gaza.
Many hope this census will point to a brighter future.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
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