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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

No Arab Demographic Time Bomb

Filed under: Israel, Palestinians
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review
Volume 29, Numbers 3–4

Demographic Reality Defies Conventional Wisdom

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Jewish state is not facing an Arab demographic time bomb. It benefits, however, from a robust Jewish demographic tailwind of births and net immigration.

For example, from 1995 to 2017 the number of Israeli Jewish births surged by 74 percent, from 80,400 to 140,000, while the number of Israeli Arab births grew by 19 percent, from 36,000 to 43,000. Moreover, contrary to conventional wisdom, the trend of Israeli emigration has slowed down. The number of Israelis staying abroad for over a year increased by 6,300 in 2016 (the lowest increase in 10 years – a derivative of the growth of Israel’s economy), compared to 8,200 in 2015 and 14,200 additional emigrants in 1990. At the same time, Israel’s population surged from 4.8 million in 1990 to 8.8 million in 2018.

Since the end of the 19th century, the Jewish-Arab demographic balance has systematically defied the demographic establishment’s assessments and projections.

For instance, in March 1898 Simon Dubnov, a leading Jewish historian and demographer, projected 500,000 Jews in the Land of Israel by 1998, defining Theodore Herzl’s Zionist vision as “messianic wishful thinking.” However, Herzl was the ultimate realist and Dubnov was off by 5.5 million Jews!

In October 1944 the founder of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) and the luminary of Israel’s demographic and statistical establishments, Prof. Roberto Bachi, projected 2.3 million Jews in Israel in 2001, a 34 percent minority. Bachi’s projection reflected the demographic establishment’s underwhelming assessment of Jewish fertility and immigration (aliyah) and overwhelming assessment of Arab fertility. In 2018 there are seven million Jews in Israel, a 65.5 percent majority in the combined area of pre-1967 Israel, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), enjoying an effective demographic tailwind.

During the 1980s the ICBS sustained its traditional, minimalist assessment of aliyah, dismissing the potential of an aliyah wave from the Soviet Union. Yet, in defiance of the demographic and statistical establishments – and thanks to a most assertive, proactive aliyah policy by Prime Ministers Ben-Gurion, Eshkol, Meir, Begin, and Shamir – 1 million Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel.

In 2000, consistent with demographic political correctness, the ICBS projected a gradual decline of the Jewish fertility rate from 2.6 births per woman to 2.4 in 2025. However, by 2017 the Jewish fertility rate had risen to 3.16 births per woman and 76.5 percent of all Israeli births were Jewish, compared to 69 percent in 1995.

The Westernization of Arab Demography

In 1969 Israel’s Arab fertility rate (nine births per woman) was six births higher than Israel’s Jewish fertility rate. However, that gap was erased by 2015 (3.11 births each), and in 2016-17 the Jewish fertility rate was higher than the Arab rate (3.16 births per woman and 3.3 when both Jewish spouses were Israeli-born). Moreover, the Arab fertility rate in Judea and Samaria is 3 births per woman, compared to 5 in 2000. In fact, in 2018 Israel’s Jewish fertility rate is equal to Jordan’s while exceeding the fertility rates in all Arab countries other than Yemen, Iraq, and Egypt.

The rise of Jewish fertility reflects enhanced optimism, patriotism, attachment to roots, communal responsibility, and a substantial decline in the number of abortions. Furthermore, while conventional wisdom assumes that the surge of Israel’s Jewish fertility rate was triggered by the ultra-Orthodox community, reality documents a moderate decline of the ultra-Orthodox fertility rate (due to the growing integration into the job market and academia) while a substantial increase of the fertility rate has occurred in Israel’s secular sector, which is the largest sector of the population.

At the same time, the Westernization of Arab fertility (in Israel, Judea and Samaria, and throughout the Middle East) is a derivative of the following phenomena:

  • Intense urbanization has transformed the 70 percent rural Arab population in Judea and Samaria in 1967 to a 75 percent urban population in 2018;
  • Dramatically higher numbers of Arab women in Israel, Judea and Samaria are completing high school and pursuing higher education;
  • Rather than getting married at the age of 15 and beginning reproduction at 16 – as did their mothers and grandmothers – contemporary Arab women tend to delay and shorten that process;
  • Arab women have improved their social status and seek to advance their own careers, thus ending their reproductive period at the age of 45 rather than 55, resulting in fewer births;
  • Rapidly declining teen pregnancy;
  • Rapidly expanding family planning;
  • Youthful male emigration among Judea and Samaria Arabs has widened the gap between the number of Arab males and females there; and
  • Arab women in Israel, Judea and Samaria, just like Arab women throughout the Arab world, have substantially increased the use of contraceptives as family-planning services have expanded in the Arab region.

According to a June 2012 study by the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau (PRB), 72 percent of 15- to 49-year-old Palestinian married women prefer to avoid pregnancy, trailing Morocco (78 percent) while ahead of Jordan (71 percent) and Egypt (69 percent).

Auditing, rather than Echoing, the Official Palestinian Data

In contrast to the Israeli and global demographic establishment, this article audits – rather than echoing and amplifying – the official data of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). The article examines the records of the PCBS against the data published by the Palestinian Departments of Health, Education, and Interior, the Palestinian Election Commission, the World Bank, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel’s Authority of International Passages, and so on.

Unlike the demographic establishment, this article does not indulge in projections, which are subjective by definition, affected by a litany of unpredictable domestic and international social, economic, and geopolitical factors. Instead this article focuses only on well-documented and verifiable birth, death, and migration data.

Since 2004 the America-Israel Demographic Research Group – consisting of three Americans and six Israelis, including this writer – has documented significant inaccuracies and misrepresentations by the PCBS totaling over one million Arabs in Judea and Samaria and about half a million in Gaza. For instance:

  1. On February 26, 1998, upon completing the first Palestinian census, the head of the PCBS, Hasan Abu-Libdeh, stated at a press conference: “We counted 325,000 persons living outside the Palestinian lands for more than one year.” The inclusion of such a contingency in a census is prohibited by international standards until – and if – the overseas residents return for at least 90 days. Furthermore, such a contingency expands systematically through births (which exceed deaths). This malpractice was confirmed by the 1998 website of the PCBS: “The de-facto approach was adopted with some exceptions: All Palestinians studying abroad irrespective of the study period…Palestinians who live abroad for more than one year, and who have a usual place of residence in the Palestinian territories….”

    It was reconfirmed on October 14, 2004, when the Palestinian Election Commission stated that 200,000 overseas residents – over the age of 18 – were on the roster of eligible voters. Since in October 2004, 18 was the median age, the number of overseas residents included in the census expanded to 400,000 persons. On October 29, 2014, the Palestinian undersecretary of the interior, Hassan Ilwi, told the Ma’an News Agency: “Since 1995, we have registered about 100,000 children born abroad.”

  2. A double-count of the 330,000 Jerusalem Arabs (whose number increases systematically due to births) has taken place since the 1997 Palestinian census, because they are included in the official count for both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
  3. Over 100,000 Arabs (mostly from Judea and Samaria) have been double-counted – by Israel and the Palestinian Authority – as a result of marrying Israeli Arabs, which accorded them an Israeli status (permanent residents or citizens). This contingency is also growing due to births.
  4. A 32 percent inflated number of births was documented by a September 7, 2006, study by the World Bank.
  5. Deaths have been underreported as evidenced by the 2007 census, which included Arabs born in 1845…. Moreover, in 2009 the PCBS reported 1,900 deaths in Gaza while claiming that 1,391 Arabs were killed during Operation Cast Lead. A June 10, 1993, study by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (which stopped auditing the Palestinian numbers in 1996) echoed studies conducted during the Ottoman and British rule of the area, stating: “If the Palestinian population registration is accurate, then Palestinian life expectancy is higher than life expectancy in the USA.”
  6. A net emigration of 280,000 has been documented, since the 1997 Palestinian census, by Israel’s International Passages Authority, which controls all land, air, and sea passages to and from Israel, Judea and Samaria (and Gaza until the “disengagement” of 2005), while the PCBS claims zero net migration…. The 1950-1967 documentation by Jordan and Egypt reveals that net emigration has been systematic in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, except for the 1993-95 Oslo-driven importation, by Israel, of some 100,000 Palestinians from terrorist camps in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Iraq, Sudan, and Lebanon. In recent years the scope of net emigration from Judea and Samaria has been 20,000 annually.

According to a 1946 document compiled by Israel Trivus and submitted by David Ben-Gurion to the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry (titled “No Arab Majority in the Land of Israel”), if one accepted the official British Mandate statistics – which echoed the Arab numbers with no scrutiny (as is the current practice) – then Arab natural increase in the Land of Israel was the highest in human history, dramatically higher than customary in the Arab world.

The 2018 demographic reality

Contrary to political correctness, which has embraced demographic fatalism – repeatedly frustrated by reality – this article has embraced due diligence, documenting the reality of Jewish demographic momentum.

In 2018 – irrespective of the international norm to regurgitate official demographic numbers without due diligence – there are 1.85 million Arabs in Judea and Samaria (not 3 million as claimed by the PCBS), 1.6 million Israeli Muslim Arabs, 130,000 Israeli Druze, 130,000 Israeli Christian Arabs, and seven million Jews – a 65.5 percent Jewish majority in the combined area of pre-1967 Israel, Judea, and Samaria, compared with a 9 percent Jewish minority in 1900 and a 39 percent minority in 1947. While Arab demography has undergone powerful Westernization, Jewish demography has benefited from a robust demographic tailwind of fertility and an annual net immigration of 25,000-30,000 in recent years.

The latter has been the most critical growth engine for the Jewish state, representing a core value of the Zionist idea: the ingathering (aliyah) to the homeland. In 2018 there is a unique window of opportunity for another wave of aliyah from France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Britain, additional European countries, Argentina, the United States, and so on. Such a wave would follow the waves that have enriched the Jewish state every 20 years since 1882, provided that Jerusalem revives the proactive aliyah policy that was implemented by all prime ministers until 1992 but replaced since that time by a proactive absorption policy.

In 2018 Israel is the only Western democracy and advanced economy endowed with a relatively high rate of fertility, which facilitates the sustained growth of the economy as well as a potential expansion of the military ranks – if necessary – while boosting the level of national optimism.

Against the backdrop of the aforementioned demographic documentation, the suggestion that the Jewish state is facing an Arab demographic time bomb is either dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading. Or both.