Palestinian Census Called Off
- Palestinian Census Called Off
By SARAH EL DEEB - 2 December 2007
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Gaza's Hamas rulers ordered census workers
Sunday to halt the first Palestinian population count in a decade, derailing
a rare joint endeavor with the rival Fatah movement.
Hamas had agreed to cooperate with the census, which is being conducted by
President Mahmoud Abbas' rival government in the West Bank. But Hamas
officials on Sunday shut down the Gaza census office, saying the surveyors
had violated an agreement to share their data with Hamas as it is collected.
"Data can't just be given to one side and not the other," said Mohammed
Madhoun, an official in Gaza's Hamas government. "The government wants to
make use of it for its future projects."
But census officials said no political factions could see the data until the
census was complete.
Demographics play a central role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jews
are a solid majority inside Israel, roughly 80 percent of the population of
There are an estimated 3.9 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza
and about 1.7 million Arab citizens of Israelis.
To ensure that Israel can maintain its character as a democracy with a solid
Jewish majority, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert supports a withdrawal from much
of the West Bank and parts of east Jerusalem, following a pullout from Gaza
in 2005. Last week, he said Israel could one day face a struggle resembling
apartheid-era South Africa if it does not reach a peace agreement with the
Palestinians had said they hoped the first census since 1997 would help them
in future peace talks with Israel.
The census at first had escaped the Hamas-Fatah rivalry because of their
common interest in the count.
Two earlier phases, collecting data on institutions and residences, were
completed without interruption on Nov. 15. The final stage, counting people,
began Saturday in the West Bank, but not in Gaza, and was expected to take
two weeks. Hamas radio and mosques even called for people to cooperate with
Hamas took control of Gaza by force in June, prompting Abbas to expel the
Islamic group from the Palestinian government and install his own Cabinet in
the West Bank. There has been little contact between them since then. The
demand to see the census data appeared to be part of Hamas efforts to exert
authority in Gaza in the power struggle with Fatah.
Loai Shabana, head of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, accused
Hamas of ruining what was meant to be an apolitical effort.
"This is blatant and unjustified interference that sabotages a professional
endeavor," Shabana, who is appointed by the president, said from his West
Bank office. He added that the data is off limits to all political factions
until it is complete.
"No lawmaker or government official can get a peak at our records. This
would ... undermine our credibility," he said. "I wish they let national
interest prevail, and not let temporary problems between Hamas and Fatah
ruin a strategic project."