Marianne Heiberg

Parts of this chapter rely heavily on the work of FAFO colleagues Knud Knudsen and Ole Fredrik Ugland.

Level of living conditions study, the organising concept

This report consists of the base line results of the first level of living conditions study ever conducted among Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem. It offers a panoramic view of the general life situation of Palestinian men and women living in Israel's occupied territories. Data was collected during a two month period in the summer of 1992. A carefully selected representative sample of 2500 Palestinian households were interviewed by some 100 specially trained Palestinian data collectors.

In order to place the results presented in this report into perspective it is critical to understand what is meant by a person's or group's "level of living" or "living conditions". Previously the most commonly accepted indicators of individual and social welfare have been economic ones. Indicators such as personal income and gross national product per capita, to mention a few, have been widely used partly due to the belief by ordinary people and policy-makers alike that human welfare could in essence be deduced from the relative economic prosperity of the society as a whole1. The general policy implication of such an approach was, in consequence, fairly straightforward. If increases in GNP per capita translated directly or indirectly into the betterment of the human condition, then the emphasis in development planning should focus almost exclusively on fostering national economic growth, since growth would ultimately benefit everyone.

Over the last generation or so the primacy of economic indicators in the measurement of individual welfare has diminished somewhat. While economic growth is still viewed as essential to human welfare, it is by no means seen as sufficient. Not only was the goal of sustained economic growth more elusive than initially assumed, but the negative effects of economic growth, such as pollution, intolerable urban congestion, social disintegration and so forth, have become abundantly apparent. Very importantly, it also became painfully evident that the benefits of growth could be very unevenly distributed, with some sectors within a society profiting greatly while others experienced a rapid deterioration of their life situation. Consequently, there emerged a growing awareness of the need not only for corrective measures to compensate for the negative side effects of the economy, but also of the need for statistically valid instruments that could measure human welfare directly as well as a given society's performance over time in providing such welfare.

In particular indicators were required in two critical areas, areas which lie at the core of the level of living conditions survey. First, indicators were needed to measure the degree of equality in important aspects of life between individuals and groups in a society, indicators that revealed the distribution of the benefits of economic growth within a society at a specific period of time. The major concern was to evaluate whether differences between, for instance, the rich and poor, between men and women, between urban and rural residents with regard to health, education and access to economic resources were increasing or decreasing. The consequent policy goal was that development should be aimed at making substantial improvements in the lives of the maximum numbers of individuals possible within a society.

The implication for a level of living conditions study was that such a study should measure, describe and hopefully explain the variations and inequalities within a society in a policy relevant manner.
The second area dealt with the concept of social mobility. The normative and policy goal was that the social positions which individuals could attain during the course of life should be largely independent of the social position they inherit at birth. The core concern was equality of opportunity, the possibility for individuals and groups to change their relative social position over time.

Needless to say, the policy goal of equality, i.e. a relatively even distribution of resources - and the goal of equality of opportunity, i.e. a relatively equal access to those resources, such as education, a prerequisite for social mobility - do not necessarily pull in the same direction2. A stress on the latter to the exclusion of the former could imply, for instance, that disproportionate amounts of resources are locked in the permanent control of the educated and healthy to the extreme detriment of the uneducated and ill. Today social planning requires an acute understanding of the delicate balance between these two goals, a balance upon which there is little expert consensus.
However, the key conceptual question concerns what is meant by "welfare" or "level of living". The British sociologist, Richard Titmus, has defined "level of living" as:

".. the individual's command over resources in money, possessions, knowledge, psychic and physical energy, social relations, security, etc. by the help of which the individual can control and consciously direct his conditions of life." 3

In short, an individual's level of living is defined not so much by the economic goods he or she possesses, but by the ability of the individual to exercise choice and to affect the course of his or her own life. Material goods are important only to the extent they provide freedom for the individual to determine his own actions. Even though the analysis of living conditions is preoccupied with the possession of goods, the critical point is to explore people's abilities to choose, to delineate the options that are not available and the limits that restrain individual choice.4 As now internationally understood, level of living studies are concerned with human capabilities and how such capabilities are used. They try to examine the degree to which people can participate in social, political and economic decision-making and can work creatively and productively to shape their own futures.5

Human development and the ability to exercise control over one's own life is a two-sided matter. The first is objective. The fundamental dimension involves access to the resources required for 1) decent material living standards, 2) protection of health and personal security and 3) acquisition of knowledge.

The second is subjective. It relates to an individual's conviction that he or she can participate as a full human being in a meaningful social life. Thus, a full measurement of living conditions has to combine both the dimensions necessary for human physical and psychological welfare and those required for a sense of human empowerment, productivity and self-respect.

Since the level of welfare of a human being is determined by the total life situation, a level of living conditions study aspires to provide a holistic, comprehensive description. Such descriptions, of course, pose daunting theoretical and technical problems. Thus, at best, any one survey can only yield an approximate picture. However, the following items are viewed as vital to any level of living study.

Demographics: The size and composition of a population is regarded as crucial background information for a study of living conditions in a country. Population growth as well as gender, age, religious, ethnic and family composition constitute important dimensions in this respect.

Health: Often regarded as one of the most fundamental aspects of living conditions, good health is a prerequisite for well-being, happiness and general daily satisfaction.

Education: Education is seen as a critical resource enabling an individual to become a full citizen in a modern, literate society. Crucial to personal development and self-esteem, education is also viewed as personal resource with the greatest potential impact on social mobility within a society.
Work, income and consumption: Participation in the work force, and the income secured through it, is often decisive for self-esteem, social contact, a sense of belonging as well as the individual's or household's economic well-being.

Housing: There are no standard norms as to what constitutes good housing, but a dwelling is expected to provide for the reasonable comfort, privacy and protection of the household which resides within it. The dwelling is often an object of considerable emotional attachments since it can act as a physical symbol of the family and its linkage to the wider community.6

In addition to these core social indicators, level of living studies might also explore use of leisure time, social contact and sense of influence, perceptions of social conflict, access to political resources as well as religious attitudes. The exact combination of indicators will, of course, vary according to the specific requirements of the study.

The Gaza, West Bank and Arab Jerusalem survey
This level of living conditions study of Palestinians is unique not only in the comprehensive nature of the statistical findings it presents. Additionally, it is the only level of living conditions study ever conducted among a people living under occupation. The implications of this have a fundamental impact on the major conceptual premise underlying such a study. The capacity of an individual to execute control and to exercise meaningful choice over his daily life is in many respects simply incompatible with the fact of occupation. However, this is not a study of the occupation, nor indeed are the effects of occupation on the lives of Palestinians explored in any systematic way.
Nonetheless, for Palestinians the occupation forms a rigid frame within which daily life is conducted and a critical perspective shaping all the issues this report examines.

Although the literature on the occupied territories is large indeed, most of it tends to deal with only one, albeit critical, aspect of the Palestinian situation, the Palestinian-Israeli interface. In the post World War II period, no other single conflict has commanded the same level of political, diplomatic and intellectual attention. The amount of documentation, published and unpublished, this attention has generated is truly staggering. Yet despite this, reliable statistics on Palestinian society are relatively scarce. Reasonable statistics relating to, for example, health, housing conditions, labour force participation, the status of women or educational attainment, are limited. Statistics which attempt to relate across these dimensions, say, for instance housing density and psychological welfare, are almost non-existent.

This insufficiency of quantitatively reliable and representative information on Palestinian society has a range of consequences. Two such consequences are particularly significant for this study. First, each year international organizations, like the Norwegian government which funded this survey, provide millions of dollars in humanitarian and development assistance. Yet these organizations operate under a critical disadvantage. To an important extent they are forced to work arbitrarily on a hit or miss basis. Lacking comprehensive information, they are unable to make priorities between development requirements or to identify the groups in Palestinian society who are most deprived. Where are the needs greatest? Should health care or educational services be given preference? Should improvements in housing standards be given priority over improvements in infrastructure? Who are in greatest need? Should refugees living in camps or those refugees who live outside them be especially targeted for assistance - and for what type of assistance? Are levels of deprivation more marked in the north of the West Bank or the south? Is poverty more pronounced in Gaza City or in the villages of the West Bank? In terms of education or health, are refugee women in Gaza worse off than village women in the West Bank? Without adequate information, these types of questions, essential to development planning, cannot be answered. Consequently, resources cannot be distributed and utilized in a rational, efficient manner.

Second, both Palestinians and Israelis hold firm views concerning the nature of Palestinian realities, and these views are often diametrically different. For example, Israeli official statistics state that unemployment in Gaza is around 5 to 6%. UNRWA has suggested that the real figure is somewhere around 60%. Some Palestinian figures for infant mortality are almost three times higher than Israeli figures. The same disparity exists in almost all other spheres, from Palestinian housing standards to political attitudes. In fact, there is no agreement on how many Palestinians actually live in the occupied territories. This gap in perceptions of reality stimulates a war of images, a form of discourse whereby Israelis and Palestinians, while trying to talk to each other, end up talking past each other, partly because they have no shared view of the facts. The search for common ground becomes almost intractably difficult when there is no agreement even on what the ground looks like.
This survey has been undertaken to address both these dimensions. The specific objectives of the survey are:

  1. To contribute needed, comprehensive, reliable statistical information on the occupied territories. It should be noted that no official census has been conducted since 1967 and surveys conducted subsequently have been partial and generally viewed as inadequate.
  2. To be of assistance to governments and international organizations in designing appropriate development and humanitarian aid programmes for the region.
  3. To assist Palestinians in planning and measuring the course of their own social and economic development.

The dimensions of living conditions surveyed are:
  • Household composition & demographics
  • Housing conditions & amenities
  • Education
  • Employment, work force & work histories
  • Sources of income
  • Capital goods, consumer durables & expenditures
  • Savings & indebtedness
  • Culture & leisure activities
  • Health & psychological welfare
  • Children & injury
  • Political, religious & social attitudes
  • Travel & mobility
  • Gender relations
  • Women's work load & types of work
  • Women's control over resources & decision-making
  • Women's attitudes to constraints & conventions
  • Family planning
  • Birth histories
The project was built up in three stages. Each stage was initiated only after the successful completion of the preceding phase.

Stage I consisted of a preliminary investigation to establish whether or not the political and professional parameters for successful project implementation were present in an area which is both volatile and complex. This stage was completed in July 1990.

Stage II consisted of a pilot survey of 300 households in Gaza. Preparation for the pilot consisted of building a local research organization, developing the questionnaire, designing procedures by which to draw a representative sample of the Gaza population and, finally, recruiting, training and organizing a Palestinian supervisor and data collector corps. The aim of the pilot study was to provide a thorough trial run of the main instruments of research as well as to test the competence of the data collectors and the adequacy of the project's logistical capacities. The pilot study was completed successfully in August 1991 and showed the need to make significant changes in many aspects of the project design. Based on the results of the Gaza pilot most of the questionnaire was modified, the sampling design was refined, improved training programmes were instituted, SPSS data entry and logical rules and consistency checks were revised, and FAFO's field organization was considerably reinforced. Some eight months were required for the preparation of the main survey.
Stage III was the main survey of 1000 households in Gaza, 1000 in the West Bank and 500 in Arab Jerusalem. Field work took approximately two months. The final data base was available in November 1992. By that time all questionnaires had been processed through an initial SPSS entry program which contained some 500 logical rules and consistency checks and, subsequently, double- punched to uncover errors that might have escaped the first data entry processing.

The final stage involved the analysis of the data base and the interpretation of the statistical findings. It should be emphasized at the outset that, since we here deal with sample data, some fluctuations due to sampling errors will normally occur in all of the following analyses. Interested readers should consult this book's appendix A, on sampling strategy, in addition to appendices B and C.
Living conditions studies have for the most part been conducted in modern Western societies although their use in developing countries is accelerating. In the West, the analysis of results can usually be based on comprehensive social models which contain the essential relationships and dynamics of the societies involved. Thus survey results can be used to confirm, modify or challenge pre-existing policies and/or models. To some extent such surveys tread ground that already has been ploughed.

However, in this sense Palestinian society presents an exceptional analytical challenge. The holistic models required for analysis have not so far been developed and appropriate comparative data is difficult to obtain. Broadly speaking, from a sociological view, a combination of four specific factors are critical to an understanding of Palestinian living conditions in the occupied territories and the forces of change and tension which affect and are transforming them.
  1. It is a society under prolonged occupation.
  2. A significant portion of Palestinians resident in the area are displaced or refugees with the consequent disruption of traditional social structures.
  3. For over four years this society has experienced low intensity warfare, the intifada.
  4. Culturally, Palestinian society is a integral part of Middle Eastern society.

Whereas parallels for any one of these factors could, perhaps, be easily found elsewhere, it is the convergence of these central parameters that bestows a distinctive quality upon Palestinian society.
The limitations of the present survey are similar to the limitations of all surveys of this nature. On the practical side respondents were occasionally unwilling to answer questions openly. On some of the economic variables, some respondents under-reported their assets. On some of the attitudinal questions, respondents at times concealed their true opinions and at times failed to understand the question. Despite the two years used on its development, the questionnaire still contained weaknesses which have hampered analysis of some of the results.

On the more theoretical side comprehensive, statistical surveys can provide a representative and comprehensive overview of a society, but the price is often lack of analytical depth. Explanatory power and causal understandings of certain social phenomena can often be better gained through prolonged qualitative study rather than through quantitative methods, however sweeping in scope.
This survey was also subject to another, more specific limitation. During the three years the project lasted, the Middle East witnessed a major war, as well as, in the wake of that war, the most promising attempt hitherto to fashion peace in the region. In the occupied territories violence was frequent and the population was subjected to a range of restrictions and punitive measures including prolonged periods of curfew. Although its initial fury had dimmed, the resistance, sacrifice and discipline of the intifada had become institutionalized in daily life. The problems of conducting a large scale project in such a highly strained and unpredictable environment are obvious. Moreover, the fears, anger and suspicions that are inherent in these circumstances could well have coloured the way the survey was perceived as well as how the more sensitive parts of the survey questionnaire were answered.

Despite these limitations, however, it is hoped that the analysis this report contains will contribute new and useful insights into Palestinian society, into its vulnerabilities and strengths, its constraints and opportunities and into the concerns and aspirations of its people.

The various analyses in this report underline important and critical aspects of the situation of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Typically, the chapter on Population (Chapter 2) shows that although child mortality still is relatively high, a general improvement has occurred during the last decades. The proportion of very young Palestinians is presently large indeed. This fact, together with expected future fertility levels, give rise to dramatic projections for the population size in the next twenty years.

There are great variations between the main regions in daily living conditions, indoors and outdoors, as demonstrated in Chapter 3 on Housing. Gazans, particularly in camps, score on average low on indicators for, e.g., housing and infrastructure. People on the West Bank, and especially in Arab Jerusalem, are often better off, a pattern illustrated also in Chapters 6, 7 and 10 on Economy, Employment and Women respectively. However, results of services by UNWRA and similar organizations are demonstrated by findings in Chapter 4 (on Health) and Chapter 5 (on Education). Efforts on a broad scale over time seem to have reduced otherwise substantial inequalities.
It is an interesting finding that Gazans, especially in camps, despite their low score on several objective living condition components, still often look at their situation in more positive terms than people in the other regions ( see chapter 4 on Health, Chapter 8 on Social Stratification and Chapter 9 on Attitudes). A possible interpretation of this pattern could be that the more direct and intense experience of external conflict prevalent there may strengthen feelings of shared values and common purpose.

Findings and interpretations in this report like those just summarized, are manifold and sometimes, by necessity, complex. They should therefore be read in the proper context, i.e. in the very chapters they are presented. As an introductory background for an understanding of the following survey results, a general description of Palestinian Society is given in the first chapter (Chapter 1). Each subsequent chapter concentrates on specific level of living components.

1 Gudmund Hernes and Knud Knudsen, Lithuania: Living Conditions Oslo: FAFO Report, 1991 p.156.
2 Hernes and Knudsen, op cit, p.157-8.
3 Richard A. Titmus, Essays on the Welfare State, London: Allen and Unwin, 1958.
4 Ole Fredrik Ugland, unpublished FAFO memo, August 1992.
5 UNDP, Human Development Report 1992, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press p.12.
6 Ole Fredrik Ugland, op.cit.

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