As the title indicates, this is a report of a survey of living conditions in Gaza, the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem undertaken on a representative sample of 2,500 households in the summer months of 1992. The study, FALCOT, was initiated by the Norwegian Trade Union Federation, FAFO, and implemented throughout with the active participation and involvement of a Norwegian-Palestinian team. Over 100 Palestinian interviewers, male and female, were trained to collect the data in the three geographic areas.
The introduction specifies how the study developed and the practical phases and steps of implementation. Each of the ten chapters of the report focuses on a specific subject covered by the survey. With the exception of the first chapter which deals, in an analytical manner, with socio-economic and legal transformations since 1967, for the most part the remaining chapters restrict their focus to providing statistical data and information as gathered in the survey. Subjects covered include population, housing, health, education, employment, income and consumption, women, social classes and attitudes.
The basic premise of the survey is that economic indicators, such as GNP per capita, are not accurate measures of living conditions since they do not measure degree of equality in various areas of life or equal opportunities available to individuals and groups to advance in society. The survey team, therefore, decided that a better measure of living conditions would be the ability of the individual to affect the course of his life rather than goods, possessions or other economic indicators. But the team was aware that such a measure of living conditions may be problematic in a society which has experienced prolonged military occupation. In addition, Palestinian society exhibits unique features: a refugee society with 40% of the population registered as such, the Intifada, and the cultural links which tie Palestinians to the wider Middle East. As the team considered all these factors, the objectives of the study became even more focused and centered around the compilation of necessary, reliable and comprehensive statistics on Palestinian society; helping foreign governments and international organizations to determine appropriate development and programs of humanitarian help in the areas; and helping Palestinians to plan and measure their own socio-economic development.
Judging from the wealth of data found in this report, one can conclude that the survey team has succeeded in laying the foundations for the accomplishment of its objectives. Unfortunately, however, the report, with the exception of one or two chapters, lacks in-depth analytical discussion of the various subjects covered by the survey. Perhaps this is excusable as one of the primary objectives was the compilation of data and statistics. No wonder, then, that the report looks something like a statistical abstract. To the sociologist or anthropologist, the emphasis on statistics may make one lose the pulse of society or its folkloric richness and variety. But this was not the purpose of the survey, as the objectives made clear. The report, by its mere publication, points to the restrictions and limitations which Palestinians had to endure under Israeli occupation since 1967 and which did not allow them to develop their know-how and administrative capabilities so as to conduct such a survey by themselves. Cooperation with the Norwegians, could thus herald the first stages for Palestinians to take things into their own hands and to develop their own system of data gathering, which promises to be of high quality and of practical applications in planning and resource allocation.
Attention should be drawn to some of the findings of the report which merit a closer look and reflection:
? In examining social change in Palestinian society, it was found that a high level of social integration exists together with a low level of social advancement. As a result, education and emigration have become venues for many in the society to compensate for the lack of advancement.
? The economic disadvantages of prolonged occupation with restrictions on movement and unexpected curfews and closures have created an environment of uncertainty and an inability to plan ahead of time for individual, family and group activities. High birth rates are prevalent with the General Fertility Rate standing at the rate of 6.2 children per woman.
? High rate of dependency with close to 50% of the population 14 years of age and below. This translates into valuable resources being spent on clothing, food and other immediate needs rather than on long range planning and structural development.
? The Palestinian population, given the actual birth and death rates with no emigration, would reach 4.5 million in 20 years. With emigration, the population is expected to increase to 3.5 million for the same period.
? The urban areas enjoy better housing conditions in contrast to rural areas.
The worst housing conditions are in the refugee camps, particularly in the Gaza strip.
? Only 20% of the respondents did not report any symptoms of psychological stress, 50% reported 1 to 3 symptoms and 30% reported 4 to 7 symptoms which indicate a high level of stress.
? Refugees in camps spend more time in schooling than non-refugees. This is reflected in the educational achievement of refugee camp children whose level is equal to that of children in Arab Jerusalem.
? On economic resources available to households, Gaza strip fares worst of all three areas and the residents of refugee camps fare worse than non-refugees in Gaza, West Bank and Arab Jerusalem.
? Only 15% of income comes from agriculture and fishing (Gaza strip).
The share of the Gaza strip of income from employment is lowest in all three areas. One way to alleviate the depressed economic conditions would be to create employment opportunities.
? Women do not have the same independent economic resources as men.
Often, women's economic empowerment comes through marriage.
? When discussing social classes, Gaza strip fits more the pattern found in underdeveloped societies. East Jerusalem scored highest on indicators of social class with the West Bank in between Gaza and East Jerusalem.
? There are two contradictory tendencies or attitudinal orientations in the society: Liberalism which believes in women's rights, secularism and democracy and Conservatism which stresses traditions, patriarchal structure, religious inclinations and rejection of pluralism.
? East Jerusalem is more aware of contradictions in society while the Gaza strip is least aware of these contradictions.
? Women in East Jerusalem are most aware of contradictions based on sex while women in Gaza strip are least aware of these contradictions.
? Refugee camps in Gaza strip and East Jerusalem are more secular in their attitudes than other areas.
? The most pessimistic groups in the society are the most educated.
In a variety of ways, these findings indicate that the report has succeeded in pinpointing some of the tendencies and trends in the society. But because of the preponderance of statistics and data, the report cannot be read as a regular narrative book or monograph. Academics, officials and others with particular interests or areas of expertise on Palestinian society can use it to serve their specific interests whether in the classroom, on the planning board or in discussions on needs and possible trends in the society.
But as the editors of the report point out, the reader should use the report with care since its findings are based on a sample and not on the whole population. Therefore, when comparisons are made and conclusions drawn, this fact should be kept in mind and general statements should be avoided. The need to be careful could be illustrated by the following items drawn from the report:
The report mentions that, according to the sample, Christians in Arab Jerusalem make up 15% of the population. Church sources place the percentage of Christians in Jerusalem at 7% while Israeli sources, including the Jerusalem Statistical Yearbook place them at 9.3%.
With respect to vital statistics, i.e., birth and death rates and migration, there is doubt that the report fills the void on quality and reliability of data in this area. This is because the survey did not include measures of migration trends. Therefore, projection of population growth, based on data provided in this report, should be addressed cautiously.
The definitions of "urban" and "rural" as found in the report should be further sharpened in order to take into consideration the actual transformations which have occurred in Palestinian society since 1967. The majority of the Palestinian population in the West Bank can no longer be characterized as rural. Even those Palestinians living in villages have lost the rural status since their villages have increasingly gained the characteristics of urban localities, not simply in terms of size, but also of employment and other economic and social indicators.
But after all is said and done, this report is a testimony of the dedication and hard work of the Norwegian-Palestinian team. While FAFO is in the process of preparing a short summary in Arabic of the study and its main findings, there must be serious consideration of the feasibility and utility of translating all or parts of the report to Arabic. Besides, FAFO, which has so willingly initiated and supported this study must take its support one step further by helping to train Palestinians to do the kind of work done in this survey in a systematic manner, periodically. Once the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics is functional, the work done by the Norwegian-Palestinian team in the FALCOT study could provide the model to be emulated and the basis for continued cooperation between the two sides in this, as well as other areas of mutual interests.