Gaza Census Renewed as Hamas Scales Back Demand to See Data

Agreement marks first time since Hamas takeover that the group has caved to a PA institution.

Employees of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics began collecting data Monday for a population census in the Gaza Strip after a hiatus of several weeks. In August, the PCBS began a comprehensive survey of populations, economic enterprises, homes and other buildings in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

In late November, the Hamas government in Gaza established a committee to monitor the census-takers' activities in the strip and demanded that it receive all of the collected data in advance.

PCBS director Dr. Louay Shabaneh refused the request, on the grounds that the PCBS is not a political organization and owes allegiance only to the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah.

In response, the Hamas government closed the PCBS offices and halted work on the census. This week an agreement was reached that has allowed the census to continue, with the mediation of Dr. Mustafa Barghouti and two United Nations agencies.

On Monday, nine days after data collection in the West Bank was completed, 1,600 census takers began working in Gaza. The census is expected to take two weeks.

The agreement marks the first time since the Hamas takeover of Gaza last June, that the government has climbed down after flexing its muscles in the face of an important PA institution.

Barghouti, who in January 2006 was a PA presidential candidate, says the PCBS asked him to mediate in the dispute. Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a minister in the former PA unity government, was joined by UNFPA, the UN Population Fund, and UNSCO, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East.

The agreement stipulates that PCBS will collect and analyze the data and the results "will be submitted to everyone, including people in Gaza," Barghouti said.

The $8.6 million cost of the census is being underwritten by the PA, the UN, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the OPEC states. Shabaneh said Wednesday that the mediation effort succeeded after he and his fellow mediators explained that the PCBS is an independent, nonpolitical, nonpartisan institution that provides services to the entire Palestinian public.

The data that is collective is always available to everyone and is posted on the organization's Web site. Shabaneh said the census takers were welcomed warmly into the homes they have visited in Gaza during their first two days of work there.