Is over-population in Gaza an act of resistance?

Is over-population in Gaza an act of resistance?
With rising rates of unemployment and poverty, the 'demographic threat' of Gaza's population may be more of a hindrance than anything else, writes Mohammed Arafat.
3 min read
05 Apr, 2017
Many families see population growth as a way to fight Israel, despite sociologists' concerns [AFP]

The Gaza Strip measures around 25 miles long, by between three and seven miles wide. It sits between two continents and overlooks the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

With nearly two million Palestinians living here, Gaza boasts one of the highest population densities in the world, amid frequent wars and high rates of poverty and unemployment.

A 2016 study conducted by the Directorate Centre of Civil Status showed the population at 1,957,000; 50.66 percent of whom are male with 49.34 percent female.

But this figure does not take into account Palestinians born outside the Strip who were unable to return to Gaza due to the ongoing siege, and who consequently could not be registered here.

Gaza is becoming increasingly over-populated, with a population density of 26,000 per kilometre - a figure which rises as high as 55,000/km in several of the refugee camps here.

Despite the seemingly endless suffering inflicted on the people of Gaza, social, cultural and religious influences all play a role in the high population rate. Birth control is not easily accessible - and when it is used, it is frowned upon.

Many Palestinians consider high birth rates a form of resistance against the Israeli occupation, and reject birth control. Former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat compounded that belief, saying "the womb of the Arab woman is my best weapon".

A large population is a reaffirmation of presence - the Palestinians are here to stay

For some, having many children is an act of resistance in itself. A large population is a reaffirmation of presence - the Palestinians are here to stay, these families are saying.

But social specialists argue that this demographic "threat" has long faded, considering the difficult situations in which Palestinians are already living. Any more people crammed in here will only  exacerbate the existing crisis.

Culturally, Arabs believe that a large family plays a crucial role in strengthening the family - a sign of "rank". Social convention also implies that the more children, the more support the parents will receive later in life.

Analysts and political commentators understand that the high population rate is having a detrimental effect on the natural economic resources available here, preventing the government from being able to offer basic services.

The population explosion in Gaza that is only likely to continue over the coming years will see ever-growing numbers of young Gazans opposing the Israeli state.

For some, having many children is as an act of resistance in itself

Neman Zorob, an 80-year-old Palestinian grandfather, recently had a baby girl after marrying again, after his first wife passed away. Zorob, who lives in Khan Younis, said he had a dream that he would have four children with her. "This is my first," he proudly declared.

"After the death of my wife at 68, I decided to marry another woman to help me live my life," he added. "I am healthier than most of the youngsters, and I will have more children."

Zorob already has four children from his first wife and claims to have around 100 grandchildren and great-grandchildren - and he is not the only one.

Naema el-Batsh is just 20 years old. She already has 11 children, including five sets of twins.

Not all Palestinians, however, wish to have large families. While newly married couples might wish for children, economic difficulties quickly put an end to many dreams.

While newly married couples might wish for children, economic difficulties quickly put an end to many dreams

Samah and Mohammed, a young couple, talk about the difficulties faced and the pressure felt from their parents.

"Let them come and feed my children, and I will give them more," Samah laughingly explains.

Her husband, Mohammed, adds that the issue is not only with the parents, but also the mass unemployment faced by the youth.

Mohammed Arafat holds a bachelor degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and is preparing for a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies. Author of, Still Living There, a book documenting Gaza's last war and its aftermath.