In defiance of both conventional wisdom and Israel’s critics, the highest-ever Arab population growth rate in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) occurred during the period of Israel’s full control of the area (1967-1992).
Between 1967 and 1992, the Arab population of Judea and Samaria expanded by 79%, compared to a mere 0.9% growth during the 1950-1967 Jordanian rule. In raw numbers, the population increased from 586,000 to 1,050,000 people.
The unprecedented Arab population growth rate was the outcome of the unprecedented Israeli development of health, medical, transportation, education and employment infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, following stagnation during the Jordanian occupation of the area (1948-67). In addition, Israel offered employment opportunities inside its pre-1967 core, to the Arabs of Judea and Samaria, who preferred working in Israel to the distant Arab Gulf states, West Africa or Latin America.
As a result of enhanced medical infrastructure, Arab infant mortality was drastically reduced, so that life expectancy surged, almost to the Israeli level. Emigration was substantially curtailed due to new opportunities for higher education and employment.
Hence, while net-emigration during the 17 years of Jordan’s control was 28,000 annually, it subsided to 7,000 annually during the 25 years of Israel’s full-control.
The exceptionally high Arab population growth rate during Israel’s full control of Judea and Samaria included 170% growth of the 25-34 age group, which is the bulk of likely emigrants. That they stayed attests to the unprecedented development of employment opportunities for Arabs by Israel.
Compared to an Arab population growth rate of merely 0.9% during Jordan’s rule – when births were almost offset by net emigration – there was a 2.2% average annual population growth rate during Israel’s rule. Moreover, 1990 and 1991 featured 4.5% and 5.1% population growth rates.
Arguably, the surge in Arab population growth was misperceived by the demographic establishment, which projected a continued growth at the same rate, ignoring the “pre-fall-surge” syndrome. That phrase characterizes population growth rates of Third World societies, when they more closely resemble Western world societies in certain areas.
When a Third World population is provided with modernized infrastructure, it triggers a surge in the fertility rate some of which attributable to lowered infant mortality). But the surge in population growth tends to last for one generation, before falling due to other effects of modernization/Westernization, as evidenced in Judea and Samaria:
- Massive urbanization (from 75% rural in 1967 to 77% urban in 2021)
- Reduced emigration.
- Most girls complete high school and increasingly pursue higher education
- Reduced teen pregnancy and increased use of contraceptives (within marriage) (70%)
- Greater female participation in the job market
- Rising marital age of women from 15 years old to 22 and older
- Shorter reproductive period (from 16–55 year old to 23-45 years old)
- Higher divorce rate and youth emigration
- Bottom Line: 9 births per Arab woman in the 1960s; 3.02 births in 2021.
Why is Israel’s Jewish Fertility Rate Thriving?
Jewish demography has been impacted by the Israeli state of mind, which is heavy on optimism, faith, patriotism, attachment to roots, collective responsibility, and the centrality of children. The modern Israeli psyche retains elements of a frontier mentality, after centuries of costly Jewish history and contemporary existential threats in the stormy, violently intolerant, unpredictable and anti-”infidel” Middle East.
Unlike the generally pessimistic and less-patriotic European state of mind, which has produced an extremely low fertility rate of 1.5 babies per woman (2.1 is required to sustain an existing level of population), Israelis – left and right, doves and hawks, secular and religious, wealthy and poor – all embrace the Zionist vision to buttress the Jewish State. They consider children a means to enrich their own lives and secure the civilian and military future of the Jewish State.
For these reasons, Israel, with a birthrate of 3.09 per woman, leads the 34 OECD countries in fertility and population growth rates. Israel also leads in the percentage of youth under the age of 15 – at 28% of the population; and the percentage of immigrants, at 23% of the population. Israel’s Jewish fertility rate is the highest among the top 100 developed countries in the world.
Moreover, Israel’s Jewish fertility rate is unique in the world in the positive correlation between level of education and income on the one hand, and the number of babies per woman on the other hand. Jewish women have sustained their relatively high fertility rate, despite their increasing age at marriage.
It is currently common for a secular, urban, highly-educated, high-income and over-30-year-old working Israeli Jewish woman to have three or four children. This is unheard of elsewhere in the West.
Since 1995, the secular sector has played the key role in Israel’s Jewish demographic momentum: there has been a 68% rise in annual Jewish births from 80,400 in 1995 to 134,866 in 2020; compared to a 16% rise of the annual Israeli Arab births from 36,500 in 1995 to 42,435 in 2020.
Israel’s demographic momentum has evolved despite a moderate decrease in the ultra-Orthodox fertility rate, which is a result of the expansion of ultra-Orthodox participation in the job market and higher education – especially for Orthodox women.
While the ultra-Orthodox fertility rate has decreased from 7.5 births per woman in 2000 to 6.5 births in 2020, it is still – by far – the highest fertility rate in Israel. The ultra-Orthodox remain committed to the Torah-driven worldview, which highlights children as a source of divine joy and critical obligation.
The ultra-Orthodox state of mind underscores procreation, as stated in Genesis 1:28: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘be fruitful and increase in number….’” It underscores God’s blessing of Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:5), and the firm belief in Maimonides’ assertion: “For one who adds a soul to Israel is as though he built a whole world….”
Israel’s unique secular and religious fertility rate reflects the sturdy state of mind of the Jewish State in the stormy Middle East, a most challenging region of the world.
Israel’s robust demography refutes the assertion that its Jewish majority is threatened by a supposed Arab demographic time bomb. In fact, well-documented demographic data, since 1900, suggest that policy-makers and public opinion molders, who enunciate such an assertion are either dramatically mistaken, or outrageously misleading.
Finally, the uniquely optimistic demography of the Jewish State reflects the unique qualities of the Jewish people, which have enabled them to overcome calamities, such as physical destruction, exiles, pogroms, the Holocaust and systemic anti-Semitism.
Yoram Ettinger is a retired Israeli diplomat.