Urban-Rural Disparities

The social structure of the population in the occupied territories exhibits considerable differentiation between the urban and rural sections, as well as within village and urban societies. Rural differentiation is high in Gaza where large citrus plantations (now in decline) used to employ the bulk of the agricultural labour force as wage workers.5 The West Bank, by comparison, is, as a rural society, dominated by a smallholding peasant population and very few big landholdings (concentrated mostly in the Jordan Valley). Average landholdings per rural household is less than 50 dunums (this category includes 84% of all landholders, and covers 34% of all possessed land).6 On the other extreme we observe that less than 1% of holders possess 38% of the land, with holdings in excess of 100 dunums each.

Table 1.1 The West Bank and the Gaza Strip Disparities in Socio-Economic Structure

Social FeatureGaza DistrictThe West Bank
1Population DensityVery high (1400/sq km)Low density (135/sq km)
2Ratio of rural to urban populationAbout 20% of total population62% of total population
3Distribution of urban populationConcentrated in one major urban conurbation (Gaza)11 urban centres medium-sized (35-90,000 each)
4Distribution of rural population8 refugee camps, and 9 villages430 villages
5Mode of agricultureIrrigated (48%) Wage labour predominantRain-fed agric. (95% of land), small farmers
6Land tenureLarge and medium-sized plantationsMedium and small-sized owned plots
7Social stratificationSharp class and social disparitiesRelative social homogeneity
8Refugees as a % of total population63%18%
Sources: (1) K. Nakhleh and E. Zureik, (eds.) Sociology of the Palestinians (London, l980); (2) Sarah Roy, The Gaza Survey (Jerusalem, l986); (3) Statistical Abstract of Israel, no. 38 (Jerusalem, l987); Lisa Taraki (ed.) Palestinian Society in the West Bank and Gaza, (Akka, 1990); M. Benvenisti and S. Khayat, The West Bank and Gaza Atlas (Jerusalem, l989); FAFO Household Survey (Oslo and Jerusalem, 1993).
Note: The reader will notice some discrepancy between some of the data above and those in the survey. Those discrepancies are primarily due to conceptual differences in the definition of social categories (e.g. what is urban and rural) by the several authors listed above.

When examining sources of income in this survey the reader should note that, for dry farming land, any cultivated area under 100 dunums would be used for subsistence and marginal farming. Hence the extent of agricultural disparities is less than would seem to be indicated by the figures. Ownership of irrigated land, on the other hand (which constitutes less than 5% of total arable land), would indicate greater disparities.

There is considerable urbanization among Palestinians by the standards of developing countries. Our survey suggests that 60% of the Palestinians in the three regions under study live in urban areas (see also chapter 2 on Population). But there are significant contrasts within the three regions. For the West Bank, 1987 Israeli data suggests that 47% of the population live in urban areas, distributed in 11 townships, the average size of which is 43,000 inhabitants.7 The household survey identifies 62% of West Bankers as 'rural' (living in over 400 villages and rural refugee camps). However, there is an uneven dispersal of the urban population, with fully 75% of those concentrated in 3 major conurbations: Nablus, Hebron, and the greater Jerusalem area (including Bethlehem and Ramallah-Bireh). Almost all West Bank towns act as centres of services and retail trade for their rural hinterlands, and are noted for their small, and weak, manufacturing sector (with the average employment per establishment amounting to 4.28 persons).8 Over the last few decades there has been a steady and even growth in the size of rural and urban localities due to the proximity of district centres to satellite villages.9 The main social divide within the townships continues to be the one found between refugee camp dwellers and residents outside these camps.

By contrast Gaza is overwhelmingly urban, with 75-80% of the population living in the Gaza-Khan Yunis-Rafah conurbations. Gaza is also distinguished by the preponderance of its refugee population, constituting 2/3 of the total, of which about 1/3 are camp dwellers. Within all of the Palestinian regions only 18% of the population live in refugee camps.


al@mashriq                       960715