Poverty, Migration, and Living Conditions

The social and economic trends which emerge from this survey could suggest both a higher rate of social homogeneity and a lower rate of social mobility than has been perceived in the existing literature on Palestinians.10 This may be, in part, due to the process of selective out-migration and depletion of resources which preceded and was accelerated by the Gulf War. In 'Household Income and Wealth' it appears that disposable income has declined since the war. Wage income has emerged, in consequence, as the major source of family income, emphasizing household demographic factors, such as the ratio of men to women, and adults to dependent children and older people.

From our analysis of households it appears that the most deprived of the social segments are the urban poor who, in both the West Bank and Gaza, constitute a significant section of the town population living in refugee camps.

The low level of rural to urban migration, caused by the proximity of villages to their district centres, has prevented these camps from expanding and developing into urban slums made up of refugees and rural immigrants. Only in Gaza, therefore, do we see this process of squalor produced by demographic pressure and housing congestion, permeating the urban scene as a whole.

Our data shows discrepancy with figures used by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) on levels of wealth and employment. These discrepancies can only partly be explained by changes brought about by the Gulf War and restrictions on (Arab) labour mobility to Israel. Some of the differences are caused by conceptual differences as to what constitutes employment, unemployment and underemployment of individuals in the labour force. The data in 'Employment and the Underutilization of Labour' (chapter 7) suggests that conventional unemployment indicators may reflect serious flaws in assessing levels of unemployment and underemployment, and misconceives the nature of female labour, which - in the case of Palestinian society - involves a high degree of put-out work within the household economy.

The data further indicates important variations by region, with Jerusalem ranking the highest in income levels and full employment among household members (one out of five fully employed) with Gaza, at the extreme end, supporting one out of twenty as fully employed (one out of thirty for southern Gaza - see chapter 6).

Loss of land and property as a result of war conditions enhanced the value of education and emigration as sources of social mobility. The vehicle of that mobility was the extended family, which invested heavily (proportional to its income) in the education of its younger members, especially sons.11

During the initial period of Israeli rule (up to 1988) the demand for unskilled wage labour in Israeli industries (the services and construction) transformed the whole relationship between family expectations, children's education and the demands of the labour market.12 Whole village communities, as well as residents of refugee camps, became completely dependent for their survival on employment in Israel. The relationship between earlier migrants who left the country before 1967 and their remaining relatives, was weakened. The structure of employment in the last 25 years has been such that the labour force as a whole has been "de-skilled" The traditional transfer of knowledge among craftsmen and artisans from generation to generation has been disrupted.

The loss of skilled migrants has had a conservative effect on village society as a whole since it removed the most innovative and educated segments, that might otherwise have been a force for change in rural society.13 It also led to a "radical re-assessment of occupational priorities" because of risks involved in emigration and in investing family savings in the education of sons. Recent employment figures show, however, that in spite of continued stress on the value of higher education by the Palestinian family, the market has been saturated with high school and university graduates with little chance of employment. This has been the result not only of the lack of employment opportunities in the local establishments, but also of the lop-sided system of education, which is heavily oriented to semi-professional and white collar employment, at the expense of a specialization that is more likely to respond to the local labour market conditions.


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