Shrinking Gaza

Last week, I was listening to a podcast of an interview with Professor Rashid Khalidi on a Chicago public radio station. I had downloaded it in great anticipation, and it got off to a great start. Khalidi, a Palestinian-American, is the Edward Said Professor at Columbia, editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, author of a well-regarded book on Palestinian identity, and the man whom Obama said reminded him of “my own blind spots.” (He was never a PLO spokesman in Beirut—don’t believe anything you read by those people.) Khalidi was smoothly guiding me through the injustices inflicted on the Palestinians at his customarily rapid clip, and I felt I was in good hands. If you can’t believe what Rashid Khalidi says about Palestine… well, who can you believe?

And then, four minutes and twenty seconds into the interview, it happened. Khalidi was explaining how Israel knew “every inch” of Gaza. After all, he said, “the Gaza Strip is about ten or eleven miles by two.”

I spewed a mouthful of coffee all over my keyboard. The Gaza Strip is over six times larger than Khalidi’s “ten or eleven miles by two.” Not an order-of-magnitude mistake, but approaching one. Khalidi’s estimate would make Gaza four times more densely populated than Singapore (in fact, population density in Gaza is somewhere over half of Singapore’s). Did Khalidi think that was possible? I wondered. Perhaps it was a mere slip. But then, eight minutes and forty seconds into the interview, came this: Israel was using battlefield weapons “in the most heavily populated area on earth.”

No, not him too! Too many of my idols have been toppled! Juan Cole, who thought that Israel’s Jenin operation (April 2002) had provoked 9/11 (September 2001)… Joel Beinin, who insisted that $100 billion in total aid to Israel make a trillion… Sara Roy, who wrote that the average Gazan consumes half a ton of flour a day… So many champions of Palestine have been martyred by math and chronology! But Rashid Khalidi had been my rock—ever-reliable, academically impeccable.

Do I expect too much? “You can’t swing a cat in Gaza,” Rashid added. “You can’t throw a stone without hitting somebody.” I imagine this isn’t literally true. And if we allow this license for words, why not for numbers?

Why not?

Wikipedia: Gaza is about 41 kilometers (25 miles) long, and between 6 and 12 kilometers (4–7.5 miles) wide, with a total area of 360 square kilometers (139 square miles). Population: 1,500,202 (July 2008 est., CIA World Factbook).

Send your estimate of the population within the Gaza outline in any of the maps below, via the (moderated) comments.