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RALEIGH – There has been so much news and coverage about the situation between Israel, Hamas, and the civilian population in Gaza over the last two weeks. This event started with the attacks by Hamas on October 7, 2023. Then the retaliatory strikes by Israel began. Approximately two weeks later, the Los Angeles Times summarizes the situation in this way:

As Biden visits, rage spreads amid dueling narratives from Israel, Hamas 

Right now, everything about the situation is horrible and dramatic.

The purpose of this article is to explore a thought experiment about the future of Gaza. Yes, the situation looks grim today. Yes, the situation might get worse in the short term. But in 6 months or 12 months, barring some sort of nuclear exchange or a World War 3 situation in the Middle East, things will have calmed down. At that point, we are going to be back where we were in September:

  1. Gaza is a tiny piece of land (about 140 square miles)
  2. More than two million Palestinians live in Gaza
  3. The situation for the Palestinians in Gaza is frequently described as “an open-air prison”

This video offers a quick summary of the conditions in Gaza: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xv7SeEeSLU

The video mentions some important statistics:

  • 50% unemployment rate
  • 62.3% youth unemployment rate
  • Chronic shortages of fuel, water, and electricity, with their deliveries controlled by Israel
  • 80% of Gazans rely on humanitarian assistance

One additional fact is that half of the people living in Gaza are children under the age of 18:

Half of Gaza’s population is under 18. Here’s what that means for the conflict – https://www.npr.org/2023/10/18/1206897328/half-of-gazas-population-is-under-18-heres-what-that-means-for-the-conflict

Now we must wonder, “What is the future of Gaza?” The current situation is horrible. The past situation was not much better. How might we improve things going forward?

Thought Experiment – What if we built a prototype Mars colony in Gaza?

You might have heard the idea of building a million-person Mars colony. This idea was first announced and popularized in 2016 and has received quite a bit of attention since. One thing this idea lacks is any sort of prototype. Therefore, what if we built a prototype Mars colony in Gaza for the two million inhabitants?

This does not need to be a “perfect” simulation of a Mars colony. For example, a real Mars colony would need to exist inside a tightly sealed bubble so that the Mars inhabitants can have oxygen to breathe and comfortable temperatures. A real Mars colony also needs radiation shielding and other considerations. We can ignore these details in the prototype on Earth in order to lower costs. In other words, we will rely on Earth’s available oxygen and low-radiation environment and avoid the need to construct a tight radiation-proof bubble.

Let’s step back and think about what we would like to have in a Mars colony. Do we want people living in slums in a Mars colony? Of course not. We want them to have modern and comfortable accommodations. Do we want people on Mars living in poverty? Of course not. We want them to have plentiful access to food, clothing, medical care, etc. just like any modern population would.

Think about the kind of experience people have on a cruise ship. They have a nice room with a private restroom. They have plenty of entertainment options. The food is fantastic and freely available. On a large cruise ship there might be 15 restaurants for the passengers. People walk in, pick out whatever food they want to eat from a buffet or a menu, and eat as much as they like. Why not create this kind of experience for the Mars colony, and therefore for the people living in the simulation in Gaza?

Let’s look at the different aspects of this thought experiment.


In a real Mars colony, the housing needs to be dense because everything needs to be inside a bubble. On a cruise ship, the housing needs to be dense because they are trying to fit as many passengers on the ship as possible. In Gaza, the housing will need to be dense because there are so many people (2 million) living on such a small piece of land (140 square miles).

There are plenty of examples of dense housing scattered across the globe. Here is one example in Vienna: https://youtu.be/twfrEpHeLfw?si=Uj6CB01w4jHXijmV&t=67

And another example in Singapore: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cjPgNBNeLU

Following these examples, we can see that high rise apartment buildings are the way to achieve density. The inevitable questions that then arise are:

  • How many square feet of living space does each person need?
  • How many restrooms are there?
  • Do the apartments need kitchens? If everyone is eating in restaurants as on a cruise ship, then no one needs a kitchen and the cost of apartments drops significantly – the kitchen is the most expensive room in a typical home.

This diagram shows a typical cabin in a cruise ship. In this example, a couple shares a private room with a private restroom. There is no need for a kitchen because the couple eats in the ship’s ubiquitous restaurants.

Artist: Lee Dempsey

Artist: Lee Dempsey

If the couple has one or two children, this configuration would be doubled. The point being, in a Mars colony kind of situation, we would decide on the amount of square footage allotted to each person and build our housing around that parameter.

Let’s imagine we build all new housing for all two million people in Gaza using 100 square feet per person as a metric. If the housing costs $200 per square foot, we need:

$200 per square foot * 100 square feet per person * 2,000,000 people = $40 billion

This might sound like a lot of money until you read an article like this:

Biden considering $100 billion funding request that includes Israel, Ukraine aid – https://www.reuters.com/world/biden-considering-100-bln-funding-request-that-includes-israel-ukraine-aid-2023-10-17/

How fast can these apartment buildings go up? China has been working on rapid assembly skills as demonstrated here, and there are many more examples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRjGVS1FIwk


One of Gaza’s big problems right now is water. The aquifer under Gaza has largely been pumped dry, and Israel therefore controls the water supply. Gaza needs to be water-independent and Gaza has a coastline, so the obvious solution is desalination.

Let’s assume that Gaza needs 50 gallons of fresh water per day per resident for things like:

  • Drinking water
  • Showering/bathing
  • Flushing toilets
  • Washing things

For the 2 million residents, this means 100 million gallons per day.

Israel already operates 5 large desalination plants in the region, producing about 5 times more water than Gaza uses: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnPGLJs3_oM

We need to build one desalination plant in Gaza to make Gaza water-independent. Since water is so crucial to life, we should probably build two plants and have some redundancies for this vital resource.

Water generated by a reverse osmosis water treatment plant requires 12 kilowatt-hours of electricity per 1,000 gallons of water. [https://www.amtaorg.com/wp-content/uploads/07_Membrane_Desalination_Power_Usage_Put_In_Perspective.pdf ] In round numbers we could say that each person requires a kilowatt-hour of electricity per day for water.

MIT has recently introduced new techniques that may revolutionize desalination.


Residents of Gaza will need electricity for normal household uses. The reverse osmosis plants for water production will also need electricity. There will need to be electricity for air conditioning, transportation, etc.

The obvious and modern solution for all these electricity needs is solar panels combined with battery storage. How much space will the solar panels take? If we assume that each resident’s aggregate electricity consumption is 5 kilowatt-hours per day, we need 10 million kilowatt-hours of electricity generation per day. This means approximately 2.5 gigawatts of solar panels. If we estimate that a square meter of solar panels produces 200 watts, we need 10 square miles or so of solar panels.


A great deal of research has been done on food production for Mars. If you have seen the movie called The Martian, it is fairly accurate and demonstrates how potatoes can grow on Mars. This article does a nice job of summarizing a lot of the research on food production:

How to Feed a Mars Colony of 1 Million People – https://www.space.com/how-feed-one-million-mars-colonists.html

“The scientists calculated the number of calories each person would need, and modeled land use given a diet that included wheat, corn, sweet potatoes, crickets and lab-grown chicken. They found that a Martian colony of 1 million people could achieve self-sufficiency in terms of food within 100 years, relying on about 9,000 miles (14,500 kilometers) worth of tunnels about 12 feet (3.6 meters) wide, which could be stacked vertically.”

If we think about this paragraph, the “100 years” part comes from the delays in shipping equipment from Earth to Mars. None of those delays will be necessary in the case of Gaza. The “9,000 miles of tunnels about 12 feet wide” is the equivalent to about 20 square miles of land. Since Gaza has two million people, we double it to 40 square miles. Growing crops underneath solar panels is called agrivoltaics, so some of the farming can occur under the solar panels described in the previous section. This video shows the multiple advantages of the agrivoltaics approach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_hRm-WFM1M

Gaza could grow its food on the surface, or grow it in underground tunnels, or merge the two approaches along with agrivoltaics.

All the water for irrigation can come from treated wastewater, as seen in many parts of the American Southwest. Phoenix for example “recycles an amazing 89% of its wastewater for uses, such as irrigation and cooling for the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant”: https://www.phoenix.gov/sustainability/water

Medical Care, Schools, Transportation and other Infrastructure

A country like the United States has approximately 3 hospital beds per 1,000 people. If we follow this same guideline in Gaza, the country needs 6,000 hospital beds along with the appropriate equipment. This video shows how China was able to rapidly build a 1,000-bed hospital in 10 days during Covid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWp6vSHFG4M

Given the poverty level in Gaza, the population has a remarkably high literacy rate around 97%. This is because the UN provides schools across Gaza for both male and female students.

United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) – https://www.unrwa.org/what-we-do/education

“The UNRWA Education programme in Gaza is the largest of all UNRWA programs in the five fields, serving 291,100 students (150,608 males and 140,492 females) from Grades 1-9 in the 2021/2022 school year. Students study in the 183 UNRWA schools across the Gaza Strip, of which 80 operate on a single shift basis, 198 on a double shift, staffed by some 9,443 education personnel.”

Because the land area of Gaza is so compact, walking and bicycles can provide for many of the transportation needs. A public transportation system of electric buses can cover longer distances.

And then Gaza needs a stable government and stable government services to run everything efficiently. The UN may be able to help in this area as well.

Adding it all up

Think of what we have accomplished in this thought experiment:

  • Gaza can house its population in modern high-rise apartments like those seen in Vienna and Singapore. (30 square miles)
  • Gaza can produce all its own water (2 square miles)
  • Gaza can grow all its own food and serve cruise-ship-quality food to its residents (40 square miles)
  • Gaza can produce all the electricity it needs (10 square miles)
  • Gaza can provide needed services like hospitals, schools, and transportation (10 square miles)
  • And so on

With Gaza providing all these necessities, it will go a long way toward improving the unemployment rate. People will have jobs keeping everything running.

And all of it can fit into the space available, especially if food is grown under solar panels using agrivoltaics or underground in tunnels as seen on Mars.

Before trying to start a colony on Mars, it would be a good exercise to build a prototype of the colony in Gaza and see how it works. Can Gaza become a largely self-sufficient area as described here? All it takes is some creativity, some engineering, and a few tens of billions of dollars in investment to find out.


  1. https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2023-10-18/as-rage-spreads-dueling-narratives-from-israel-and-hamas-highlight-risk-of-regional-war
  2. https://www.npr.org/2023/10/10/1204873146/what-is-gaza-strip
  3. https://www.npr.org/2023/10/18/1206897328/half-of-gazas-population-is-under-18-heres-what-that-means-for-the-conflict
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xv7SeEeSLU – Unemployment and chronic shortages: Life under blockade in Gaza • FRANCE 24 English
  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iX58Fl-n6TY – Closed Borders, Strikes, Siege: Why Escaping Gaza Is So Hard | WSJ
  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dlK7wOQojck – Gaza frontline report: horrific aftermath of hospital explosion – BBC News
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqXJ8-G7T0o – Has Life in Gaza Become Unlivable?
  8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WChPpImsBx0 – Gaza: What life is like for people living there and why this is happening now – BBC World Service
  9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WChPpImsBx0 – Gaza: What life is like for people living there and why this is happening now – BBC World Service
  10. https://www.npr.org/2023/10/18/1206897328/half-of-gazas-population-is-under-18-heres-what-that-means-for-the-conflict
  11. https://youtu.be/twfrEpHeLfw?si=Uj6CB01w4jHXijmV&t=67 – Vienna is Building a $6BN “City Within a City”
  12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cjPgNBNeLU – How Singapore Fixed Its Housing Problem
  13. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RevuVQFYCXs – “Singapore has balanced the need for density with providing public space”
  14. https://www.reuters.com/world/biden-considering-100-bln-funding-request-that-includes-israel-ukraine-aid-2023-10-17/
  15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRjGVS1FIwk – 10-storey residential building in China constructed in a day
  16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SnPGLJs3_oM – Water Desalination in Israel is Revolutionizing Water Management & is being shared around the world
  17. https://news.mit.edu/2023/desalination-system-could-produce-freshwater-cheaper-0927
  18. https://www.amtaorg.com/wp-content/uploads/07_Membrane_Desalination_Power_Usage_Put_In_Perspective.pdf
  19. https://www.architecturaldigest.com/reviews/solar/how-much-power-does-a-solar-panel-produce
  20. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_hRm-WFM1M – Agrivoltaics: Solar Panels Bring Life to Struggling Farms
  21. https://www.space.com/how-feed-one-million-mars-colonists.html
  22. https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/indicators/indicator-details/GHO/hospital-beds-(per-10-000-population)
  23. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OWp6vSHFG4M – How can China build a hospital in 10 days?
  24. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqivJBGzISQ – Gaza children back to school after 50-day war
  25. https://www.phoenix.gov/sustainability/water