Palestine: Country Profile

The name Palestine has two poignant meanings, first as something delicious or beautiful and secondly as the land protected by God.

The Palestinian flag designed by Sharif Husayn in 1916

Palestinewhatever its contested land mass and final geographical status – lies on the western edge of Asia and towards the eastern extreme of the Mediterranean Sea. On its northern side is Lebanon and Syria; to its east is Jordan, to the south lies the Gulf of Aqaba and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and to the west is the Mediterranean Sea.




The official language is Arabic but many people also speak English and some also speak Hebrew and French.

Land area

What is traditionally known as historic Palestine (the land of Palestine up to 1948) has a land area of 26,323km2 (10,162 square miles).


The West Bank and Gaza Strip currently comprise the territory called Occupied Palestine. The West Bank is approximately 5,800km2; 130km long and 40-65km wide. The Gaza Strip is 365km2; 45km long and 5-12km wide.


Centres of population


The capital is Jerusalem (al-Quds in Arabic). Palestine’s other cities include Haifa, Jaffa, Safad, Asqalan, Akko and Ramlah (contained within historic Palestine) and Jenin, Tulkaram, Nablus, Jericho, Ram Allah, Bethlehem, Hebron (within the West Bank) and Gaza City, Khan Yunis and Rafah (within Gaza).


The currency


Three currencies are used; the US dollar, the Jordanian Dinar and the New Israeli Shekel.


The people

Palestinians are an Arab people. Their total population is between 7.5 and 8.5 million according to official statistics. More than four and a half million are refugees, scattered within Palestine and abroad (known as the Diaspora). There are close to a million Palestinians living in Israel and these people are referred to as Israeli Arabs; more than two million live in the West Bank; and a further million live in the Gaza Strip. The rest are spread throughout the Middle East, with communities in Europe, the US, Latin America and elsewhere.

However, it is widely believed that due to the differing statistical methods of counting, many refugees have been excluded in the 1948 and 1967 figures, leading to many Arab and Palestinian institutions estimating that there are up to at least ten million Palestinians worldwide.

The majority of Palestinians are Sunni Muslims. Around 10% are Christian.

The population growth in the Palestinian Autonomous Areas (PAA – the territories of West Bank and Gaza Strip, as identified in formal peace treaties) is extremely high. Gaza Strip for instance, is one of the most crowded areas in the world with a population density of 2,888 people per square kilometre.


The population is also very young. More than 50% of the registered refugee population in Palestine, for example, is under the age of 15.

Number of inhabitants

  TotalWest BankGaza Strip
Mid 2001




Projected 2005




Projected 2015




Projected 2025




Distribution of the Palestinian People Worldwide (Refugees)









Saudi Arabia & Gulf


Kuwait & other Gulf


Other Arab countries


Areas Occupied in 1948


West Bank & Gaza Strip


Other countries


Total Inside


Total Outside


Palestinian Population worldwide


The government


The Palestinian Authority is the government of Palestine with Yasir Arafat the elected president.


Municipal services and government departments have been barely functioning since the second Intifada began due to repeated occupations by the Israeli army and direct attacks on government offices, departments and civil institutions.


These factors have put impossible pressures on health, education, and labour and social services in general. Together with a soaring unemployment rate, restrictions on movement imposed by the Israelis, leaves few work opportunities for residents and increasing signs of societal disintegration.


Before September 2000, the Palestinian Territories were highly dependent on Israel for the import and export of goods; approximately 16% of the Palestinian workforce was employed in Israel as commuting labourers.




Palestine has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and rainy, cold winters. The average temperature in the West Bank falls from 29C in the summer to 12C in the winter months.




Up until September 2000, Gaza International Airport was a heavily restricted airport controlled by Israeli military airspace. During the second Intifada, it has been bombed and shelled, destroying the runway and the president’s official plane.




The Marine Port is under construction in the Gaza Strip, but has also suffered from heavy Israeli bombing and shelling.


Time zone


GMT + two hours (winter)

GMT + three hours (summer)


Modern day Palestine


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Source: Al Jazeera