The AJC’s of a Failure to Correct Gaza Refugee Errors

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has failed to correct two straightforward factual errors concerning refugees in Gaza despite the fact that Palestinian government and United Nations sources contradict the claims. In his otherwise commendable Jan. 13, 2010 Op-Ed mostly focused on the difficulties and traumas facing residents of Sderot living under rocket fire, Daniel Burnett mistakenly stated that “most of Gaza’s residents live in crowded refugee camps….”

In fact, most Gazans do not live in refugee camps. According to the Web site of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 494,296 Gazans live in the Strip’s eight refugee camps, out of a total population of 1.5 million Gazans. Thus, according to UNRWA, one-third of Gazans live in refugee camps, not “most.”

Moreover, data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics suggests that the UNRWA figure is highly inflated. The Population, Housing and Establishment Census 2007 provides detailed data on how many residents live in refugee camps in each of the five Governorates in the Gaza Strip. According to the PCBS, under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority, there are 41,933 refugee camp residents in the North Gaza Governorate (Table 12, page 60); 34,648 in the Gaza Governorate (Table 13, page 61); 74,612 in the Deir Al Balah Governorate (Table 14, page 62); 37,705 in the Khan Yunis Governorate (Table 15, page 63); and 34,558 in the Rafah Governorate (Table 16, page 64). Thus, the Palestinian National Authority’s figure for the total number of Gaza residents living in refugee camps is 223,456 — or 16 percent of the total Gaza population of 1,416,543.

In a second factual error, Burnett, who is managing editor of the Red & Black, an independent student newspaper at the University of Georgia, relays a wildly inflated number of refugees in the Gaza Strip, stating: “Throw in an unstable militant government [Hamas] that would rather Palestinians launch rockets into than provide basic necessities for its people — and you are left with 1.5 million mostly destitute refugees.” In fact, the Statistical Abstract of Palestine No. 9 (December 2008), also published by the Palestinian Authority’s PCBS, finds that only 67.7 percent of Gaza’s total population are refugees (Table. 3.2.9, page 261) In other words, according to the Palestinian Authority, there are some 962,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip. (This number is distinct from the aforementioned 223,456 because refugees are not restricted to living in refugee camps. Most don’t.)

Again, UNRWA’s figure is higher than PCBS’s, but it is still lower than Burnett’s. Thus, the UNRWA Web site claims: “Over three-quarters of the current estimated [Gaza Strip] population of some 1.5 million are registered refugees.” In other words, according to UNRWA, there are 1,125,000 refugees in the Gaza Strip — 375,000 less than Burnett claims.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution declined to correct the inaccurate claim that most Gazans live in refugee camps, citing a statement from the UNRWA site, which reads: “The Gaza strip is unique amongst UNRWA’s five field operations as the majority of its population is refugees and over half of the refugees live in eight camps.” Yet, this sentence — that most of Gaza’s refugees live in refugee camps — does not support the Op-Ed’s incorrect assertion that “Most of Gaza’s residents” live in refugee camps. Gaza residents includes both refugees and non-refugees, and is a much larger group (1.5 million) than the refugee population in Gaza (1.1 million).
With regard to the second error, that there are 1.5 million refugees living in the Gaza Strip, the Atlanta Journal Constitution noted that it had three sources to document the figure. Yet, the paper refused to identify the unnamed sources, and failed to explain why they found them more credible (or credible at all, for that matter) than the two authorities responsible for keeping official statistics on Gaza refugees — the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA.
For related articles on Palestinian refugees, see here.

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