Home inFocus Israel: Refuge and Renaissance (Spring 2018) Jewish-Arab Demography Defies Conventional Wisdom

Jewish-Arab Demography Defies Conventional Wisdom

Yoram Ettinger Spring 2018
Israeli Children in Jerusalem.

In contrast to conventional demographic wisdom, the Jewish State is not facing a potential Arab demographic time bomb. In fact, Israel benefits from a robust Jewish demographic tailwind.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Israel’s Jewish-Arab demographic balance was dramatically transformed from six more births per Arab woman in 1969, to 3.11 births each in 2015, and the first Jewish edge of 3.16 to 3.11 births per woman in 2016.

In 2018, Israel is the only advanced economy and Western-style democracy endowed with a relatively high fertility rate (number of births per woman), which facilitates further economic growth with minimal dependency on migrant labor.  Moreover, Israel’s thriving Jewish demography also strengthens national security, with larger classes of military recruits, and a more confident foreign policy.

The systematic Westernization of Arab fertility – from 9.5 births per woman in 1960 to 3.11 in 2016 – reflects the accelerated integration of Israeli Arab women into modernity, and their enhanced social status within the Arab society. 

For instance, as it is among the Arabs in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), whose fertility rate has declined from 5 births per woman in 2000 to 3.27 births in 2017 – and unlike their social standing a generation ago – almost all Arab girls in Israel, Judea and Samaria complete high school, and increasingly enroll in colleges and universities. This process has delayed the wedding-age and the reproductive process – which used to start at the age of 15-16 – to the age of 20 years old and older. It has also expanded the use of contraceptives.

According to the Population Reference Bureau, women in the Palestinian Authority rank second (72 percent) – following Morocco (78 percent) and together with Jordan (70 percent) – among Muslim users of contraceptives and general avoidance of pregnancy.

In addition, Arab women in Israel, Judea and Samaria are increasingly integrated into the employment market, becoming more career and social-oriented, which terminates their reproductive process at the age of 45, rather than 50-55, as it used to be.

Furthermore, an intense urbanization process has transformed (especially the younger) Arabs in Judea and Samaria, shifting from a 70 percent rural society in 1967 to a 75 percent urban society. In other words, from a society which provided a convenient environment for a multitude of children – who were considered an essential labor force – to a society which does not require, and does not lend itself, to many children.

A systematic and dramatic decline in Islamic fertility rate has taken place throughout the Muslim world, except for the sub-Saharan countries: Iran – 2 births per woman, Libya – 2, Saudi Arabia – 2.1, Morocco – 2.11, Tunisia – 2.2, Syria – 2.5, Algeria – 2.7, Jordan – 3.2, Iraq – 3.4, Egypt – 3.5 and Yemen – 3.6, etc.   

Contrary to the “demographers of doom” in Israel’s academia and government, the demographic trend has recorded an unprecedented Jewish tailwind. For example, the number of Jewish births surged, impressively, 74 percent, from 80,000 in 1995 to 140,000 in 2017, while the number of Israeli-Arab births grew, moderately, 22 percent from 36,000 in 1995 to 44,000 in 2017.  In 1995, the share of Jewish births in Israel was 69 percent of total births, surging to 76.5 percent in 2017.

The significant rise in the rate of Jewish fertility has occurred, even though the ultra-Orthodox fertility rate has subsided, slightly, due to enhanced integration into the employment market, academia and even the military. The rise of Israel’s Jewish fertility rate is due to an unprecedented contribution by the secular Jewish sector, including the yuppies of cosmopolitan Tel Aviv. It has been a derivative of the high level optimism and patriotism, the attachment to national roots and a sense of collective/communal responsibility, as well as a substantial reduction of the choice of abortions.

Moreover, the Arabs of Judea and Samaria have experienced annual net-emigration since the Jordanian occupation of April 1950, except for 1993-1995, when some 100,000 Palestinians arrived from terrorist camps in Tunisia, Yemen, the Sudan and Lebanon on the coattails of the September 1993 Oslo Accord, assuming the top positions in the Palestinian Authority. Also, during the mid-80s, King Hussein curtailed migration across the Jordan River in order to demonstrate his clout to the Palestinians. The extent of Arab net-emigration from Judea and Samaria has been around 20,000 annually in recent years.

At the same time, Jewish immigration (aliyah) has persisted since 1882, featuring major waves every 20 years (e.g., one million during the 1990s and the early 2000s) and a 20,000-30,000 annual average in recent years.  The huge potential of aliyah – from France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, additional European countries, and Argentina – awaits a pro-active aliyah policy, which has not been undertaken since the end of Prime Minister  Yitzhak Shamir’s administration in 1992.

In contrast with conventional wisdom, the annual number of Israeli emigrants (staying abroad in excess of a year) has decreased substantially from 14,200 in 1990 to 8,200 in 2015, during which time the population almost doubled from 4.5 million to 8.6 million, respectively.

Palestinian Manipulation

The head of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), Hassan Abu-Libdeh, submitted the results of the first population census at a February 1998 press conference: “We counted 325,000 persons living outside the Palestinian lands for more than one year.” According to international regulations, people who are away from their home-country for over a year must be deducted from the count, until they return for, at least, 90 days. This number is expanding systematically as a result of births (which always exceed deaths).

The unwarranted inclusion of overseas residents in the Palestinian census was also documented, in February 1998, by the website of the PCBS: “The de-facto approach was adopted with some exceptions: All Palestinians studying abroad irrespective of the study period…. Palestinian who live abroad for more than one year, and who have a usual place of residence in the Palestinian territories…” 

The Palestinian Central Election Commission issued a press release in October 2004 stating that 200,000 overseas residents (over age 18, which was then the median age) expanding the number of illegally counted persons to 400,000 were included in the list of voters for the 2005 election.

A former head of the PCBS, Louie Shabanah, stated during a June 8, 2005 debate at the Haifa Technion Ne’eman Institute, when confronted with lower birth numbers published by the Palestinian Ministry of Health: “Unlike the PCBS, the Palestinian Ministry of Health excludes overseas births….”

The Palestinian Authority Undersecretary of Interior, Hassan Ilwi, pointed out in October 2014, as reported by Ma’an, the Palestinian news agency: “Since 1995, we have registered about 100,000 children born abroad.”

Some 330,000 Jerusalem Arabs are either Israeli citizens or permanent residents, and are therefore included in the Israeli census, but they are also in the Palestinian census. Thus, they are doubly counted, and their numbers grow through births.

While the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics claims zero net-migration, there has been a documented rise in net-annual Arab emigration from Judea and Samaria since 2000, averaging 20,000 annually in recent years. A 280,000 net-emigration of Judea and Samaria Arabs has been documented by Israel’s Border Police (which supervises Israel’s international passages) since the 1997 Palestinian census.   

Over 100,000 Arabs from Judea and Samaria (mostly) and the Gaza Strip married Israeli Arabs, received Israeli ID cards, and therefore were double-counted, and their numbers grow through births.

A 32 percent inflated number of births, claimed by the Palestinian Authority, was documented in September   2006 by a World Bank study.

The 2007 PCBS census included Arabs born in 1845 – yes, 1845 – attesting to the traditional minimization of death-reporting. In 2009, the PCBS reported 1,900 deaths in Gaza, while claiming that the number of Arab casualties during Operation Cast Lead was 1,391…. A June 10, 1993 study by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics echoed the unreliability of Palestinian population registration, stating: “If the Palestinian population registration is accurate, then Palestinian life expectancy is higher than life expectancy in the USA….”

In 2017, the number of Arabs in Judea and Samaria Arabs was 1.85 million, not three million, as claimed by the PCBS.

No Demographic Doom

In 2018, there are seven million Jews in Israel, in contradiction to conventional wisdom and the demography of doom.

For example, in 1898, a leading Jewish demographer/historian, Shimon Dubnov, ridiculed Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, for attempting to establish a Jewish State, which would have no more than 500,000 Jews by 1998, a tiny minority surrounded by a vast Arab majority: “The reconstruction of the Jewish State in the Land of Israel – with a sizeable Jewish population – is impossible politically, socially and economically…. Political Zionism is utopian….”  Dubnov was off by more than five million Jews.

In 1944, Prof. Roberto Bacchi, the founder of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, and a globally renowned demographer/statistician, lobbied David Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father,  against declaring independence on demographic grounds. According to Bacchi, by 2001 there were supposed to be 2.3 million Jews in Israel, a 34 percent minority. Prof. Bacchi was off by about 3.5 million Jews.

Like Israel’s contemporary demographic establishment (led by disciples of Prof. Bacchi), Prof. Bacchi erred in dismissing the prospects of aliyah (Jewish immigration) waves, attributing to Arab fertility permanent mythical rates, assuming that Jewish fertility would be reduced to European levels, ignoring the eventual Westernization of Muslim demography in general, and Palestinian demography in particular with Jewish demographic trends exceeding expectations (3.11 births per woman, and 3.3 when both Jewish spouses are Israeli-born).

During the late 1980s, Israel’s demographic establishment dismissed Prime Minister Shamir’s goal of bringing one million Jews from the USSR to Israel. However, these one million Jews arrived and played the key role in catapulting the Jewish State scientifically, technologically, economically, militarily and demographically.

In 1946, David Ben Gurion submitted to the “Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry” a document – “No Arab Majority in the Land of Israel” by Israel A. Trivus, highlighting the fundamental flaws of the British population census, some of which persist today. For example, most forms were filled and submitted by Arab clan (Hamula’) leaders, whose interest was to maximize their political clout and benefits and therefore their numbers, at the expense of truth; the registration of the Arab inhabitants was never scrutinized; the registration of nomad Arabs (Bedouins) was intentionally inflated; the population registration suggested that death was rarely reported; migrants from rural to urban areas were double-counted in both locations; overseas residents were included in each census.

Should one accept the official British Mandate statistics, the conclusion would be that the Arab natural increase in the Land of Israel was, ostensibly, the highest in human history, dramatically higher than the natural increase in the Arab world.

The Demographic Reality

In 2018, notwithstanding the official Palestinian numbers, which are regurgitated – without due diligence – by the international community, there are seven million Jews in Israel, next to 1.85 million Israeli Arabs and 1.85 Arabs in Judea and Samaria. This is a 65.5 percent Jewish majority, benefitting from an unprecedented robust tailwind of Jewish fertility and net-immigration, compared with a 9 percent Jewish minority in 1900 and 39 percent Jewish minority in 1947 in the combined area of pre-1967 Israel, Judea and Samaria.

The misrepresentation of the demographic reality is designed to afflict Israel and its allies with unwarranted demographic pessimism/fatalism, cajoling the Jewish State into a reckless retreat from the mountain ridges of Judea and Samaria, which dominate Jerusalem, Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv and the 8-15 mile sliver along the Mediterranean (pre-1967 Israel), which is the home of 70 percent of Israel’s population, transportation, industrial, educational and medical infrastructures.

Against the backdrop of the aforementioned demographic documentation, anyone ignoring Israel’s unprecedented demographic tailwind, who suggests that an Arab demographic time bomb is haunting the Jewish State, is either dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading.

Ambassador Yoram Ettinger (ret.) is a member of the American-Israel Demographic Research Group (AIDRG) and a consultant to members of Israel’s Cabinet and Knesset.