May 2012 sees Israel entering the sixty-fifth year since it was established on the ruins of historic Palestine. Those years have been a colonial journey unprecedented in history.
Israel was based on the philosophy of bringing people of one ethnicity from around the world to supplant another people indigenous to the land. To achieve this Israel has used genocide, “transfer” and ethnic cleansing, in a manner similar to what happened to Native Americans and aboriginal Australians and New Zealanders. The big difference, though, is that the Zionist-Israeli movement used ideological justifications based on mythology of a kind well-received by the colonial West.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, relive the memory of the Nakba (Catastrophe) every day and their blood continues to be shed on the land of Palestine.
“Israel” is the only country in the world which emerged like a mutant; it is a colonial, settler-state built on the lie that Palestine was “a land without a people for a people without a land”. It came into being on the back of an unjust UN partition plan, resolution 181 of 1947 which was rejected by the Palestinians who were the majority in the land at the time. There were almost 1 million Palestinians and around 450,000 Jews; most of the latter were newly-arrived from Europe in the thirties and forties. The Palestinians owned around 94 per cent of their historic homeland; Jews owned just 6 per cent. It was perfectly logical, therefore, for the Palestinians to reject a partition plan which intended to allocate 54 per cent of historic Palestine to the nascent state of Israel. Those who read the past through modern eyes claim that the Palestinians’ refusal “lost them a golden opportunity”. Despite the pain of the Nakba, which saw more than 800,000 Palestinians driven into exile, a growth in the Palestinian population remaining in their homeland is now haunting the political and military decision-makers in Israel.
The 160,000 Palestinians who stayed in what became Israel in 1948 now total more than 1.5 million. They are based mainly in an area known as the Triangle adjacent to the 1948 Armistice Line, the Negev Desert, Galilee and West Jerusalem. They have had a major impact on the demography of the country the founders of which hoped would be an exclusively Jewish state. They have also become a political force inside Israel compatible and integrated with the programme of the Palestinian national movement.
The Palestinians living in the land occupied in 1948 are not “Israeli-Arabs”, as the media tends to describe them, and they are not “the Arab minority”; they are the land’s native people. The former labels do not reflect the reality of the conflict, and constitute an excellent entry point for promoting the culture of the mythical Zionist narrative, which spoke about Palestine being “a land without a people…”
The latest statistics put the population of Israel at 7.9 million people; importantly, the native Palestinians are around 25 per cent of the population. This includes residents of East and West Jerusalem, and Circassians, Armenians, and Turkmens, who are Palestinians by all standards and criteria. Of the 7.9 million, therefore, only 5.93 million are Jews; this includes the illegal Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. As the birth rate of the Palestinian population increases, the rate for the Jewish population is decreasing, and the number of Jewish immigrants is also falling. If it wasn’t for the massive immigration of Jews from Russia and the former Soviet republics in the nineties – one of the largest migrations of its kind – the current percentage of Jews in Israel would be less than 69 per cent of the total population.
The population of Israel is expected (based on current rates) to grow to 8 million by January 2012; 10 million by 2025 and 20 million by 2060. By then, it is estimated that the Palestinians inside Israel will be more than half of the population; these figures do not take into account the Palestinians in the currently occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The figures for the latter are 2.1 million in the West Bank and 1.6 million in Gaza; an additional 400,000 live in occupied East Jerusalem.
As such, the total population of the land of historic Palestine from the river to the sea, an area of about 27,000 square kilometres, is now approximately 11.6 million people; 5.97 million Jews and 5.63 million Palestinian Arabs, the indigenous people of the land. It is expected that the percentage of Palestinians in historic Palestine will overtake the number of Jews by the end of 2014. And let’s not forget that the Palestinian society, including the Diaspora, is a young one with almost 70 per cent below the age of 20. The Jewish community, meanwhile, is an aging society.
According to several sources, including data from the Central Bureau of Statistics in Ramallah and UNRWA, the total number of Palestinians is nearly 11 million. When the refugees in neighbouring countries are included (as they still maintain their right to return to their land) 93 per cent of all Palestinians live inside or immediately adjacent to the land of historic Palestine. The furthest Palestinian gatherings or refugee camps are no more than 400 kilometres from the homeland and their inhabitants are still at the heart of the equations; any “solution” which does not take into account their right of return is bound to fail.
Hence, the supposedly Jewish state of Israel, while outwardly arrogant and powerful, is in fact living in anxiety that the simple demography of the situation is going to challenge its existence and survival. The facts on the ground are stark, despite the pain being inflicted on the Palestinians languishing under occupation and in refugee camps. This is borne out by the chant heard every day in schools across the region:
We will return, we will return
Borders will not prevail and castles will not last
So refugees, shout, we will return.
The Nakba may be ongoing, but so is the Palestinians’ determination to see justice done.
*The author is a Palestinian writer. His article first appeared in Arabic on al Jazeera net, 8 May 2012
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.