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Israel and its demographic complex

In August the Zionist movement will celebrate its 116th anniversary. What are its achievements in the context of the demographic conflict between the Arabs and Jews in Palestine since the First Zionist Congress of 1897? What are the future prospects of this conflict?

Israeli research centres hold dozens of seminars on this subject producing recommendations for creating the right conditions for the demographic balance to tip in favour of Jewish settlers.


It is obvious that the Netanyahu government is racing against time to consolidate the idea of a “Jewish state” on the ground by Judaising time and place across historic Palestine. At the same time, the Israeli negotiators are trying to get the Palestinians to agree on the idea as part of a peace agreement.

The Zionist movement adopted two methods to achieve its goals in Palestine. The first was to attract the Jewish people worldwide to Palestine through various means; the second was to attack the owners of the land they coveted, committing numerous massacres against the indigenous Palestinians with the intention of driving them away from their homeland of Palestine. It was through these means that the Jewish people were the most important pillar for the establishment of a state at the expense of Palestinian land and its Arab population.

In 1948, Zionist militias and terrorist gangs created the conditions for the expulsion of around 750,000 Palestinians, or 53.6 per cent of the total Palestinian population. This is what Palestinians call the Nakba (Catastrophe). Most of the refugees, 80.5 per cent in fact, were driven to the areas which were saved from Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The remaining 19.5 per cent fled to neighbouring countries such as Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq. Many went eventually to other Arab countries, Europe and America in search of employment and education.

Nearly 151,000 Palestinians remained in the part of historic Palestine on which Israel was established; the nascent state covered 78 per cent of the land. Most of them lived in Galilee and by 2013 they numbered 1.4 million citizens of the Israeli state.

Worldwide there are now 11.6 million Palestinians, according to statistics produced by the Palestinian Authority’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Despite Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the majority of Palestinians are concentrated within the borders of their historic homeland and the neighbouring Arab states. The statistics show that 45.6 per cent are in historic Palestine (Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip), and 54.4 per cent are abroad in near and distant exile. Of the latter 20 per cent live in Europe, the USA and Arab countries which do not share borders with Palestine.

The number of Palestinian refugees registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) stands at 5.3 million, or around 88 per cent of the total refugee population. Thus the total percentage of refugees in 2013 is around 55 per cent of the total Palestinian population around the world.

The refugees are distributed in five areas within the UNRWA framework, and two areas beyond the remit of the UN agency in the Arab world, specifically Iraq and Egypt. Jordan hosts 41 per cent of the total refugee population; 22 per cent live in the Gaza Strip; 16 per cent are in the West Bank; and Syria and Lebanon each host 10.5 per cent of those registered with UNRWA.

Demography researchers confirm that the Palestinian population more or less doubles every twenty years, so it is expected that the figure will reach 23.1 million by 2033; the average growth rate is 3 per cent per year. In contrast, the Jewish population in Israel only doubles every 47 years based on the base year 2013. The number of Jews in Israel is 5.9 million and the growth rate, not including immigration (which has declined since the early nineties), is 1.5 per cent.

The most important characteristic of the Palestinian demographic is youth, which is due to the expansion of the base of the Palestinian population pyramid. More than 50 per cent of the Palestinian population is under the age of 15, due to high fertility rates. The average number of children per Palestinian mother is 5; the figure is highest in the Gaza Strip. The reasons put forward for this include local traditions as well as social and economic conditions.

Using the growth rates noted above, we can see that, on average, 683 Palestinian children are born every day, or 28.5 every hour. That is 4 times the rate for Jews in Israel, with 177 children a day and 7.4 per hour.

It is obvious that the demographic conflict between the Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews in Israel is in favour of the former, especially if we take into account the high population growth rates of the Arabs compared to the Jews, as well as the decline in the number of Jewish immigrants to occupied Palestine. Moreover, there are no longer any pressing social or physical factors forcing the Jews of Europe and the United States to migrate to Israel. More than half of all Jews in the world live in countries that are more attractive economically than Israel; 5.6 million live in the US and there are around 600,000 in France.

Furthermore, the determination of the Palestinians to stay on their land cannot be ruled out as an important factor in all of this, especially since the Zionist movement and Israel adopted the idea of “silent transfer” of the Palestinian Arabs (making their life so miserable that they will leave “voluntarily”) as the main means of achieving a demographic edge in the long run.

It is clear that there is an important half-hidden conflict between the Arabs and Jews in Palestine that is now in favour of the Palestinians. However, expulsions are ongoing and the Zionists are still pushing to tip the demographic balance in favour of Israeli Jews who continue to occupy ever more Palestinian land. This makes the need for a just and lasting peace to be achieved as a matter of urgency before the Palestinians become a footnote in the history of their own land.

The author is a Palestinian writer. This article is a translation from the Arabic which first appeared on Al Jazeera net, 7 July, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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