Racist Israel continues to promote the perceived threat of Palestinian population growth, the so-called “demographic time bomb”. Every time this issue comes up, Professor Arnon Soffer — the “Arab counter” — is called upon to comment. Soffer incites against the Palestinians and exaggerates the threat that they pose through their natural population growth. He keeps making comparisons between the Palestinian population in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem and the 1948-occupied territory — Israel — and the Jewish population. On each occasion, he claims that the demographic genie is coming out of the bottle.
This is picked up by right-wing Israeli political parties, which cannot stop talking about Palestinian demographic superiority. They mention what they believe to be a political sin by those in Israel who regard the 2.3 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip as being part of the general population of occupied Palestine.
One of the reasons for Israel’s unilateral withdrawal of troops and illegal settlers from Gaza in 2005 was the demographic controversy, which is why questions are asked now why the territory’s residents are included in the statistics. Moreover, data is being distorted by counting Jerusalemites twice and not subtracting those who have died or moved overseas.
In 2018, a representative of the Israeli Civil Administration told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee that the number of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank had increased from one million to three million people since the Oslo agreement. So in 25 years their number has apparently, tripled, and yet there is no demographic survey that indicates such an increase.
Soffer himself predicted in 1987 that Israel would cease to have a Jewish majority by 2000. He based this claim on the fact that the Palestinian birth rate was six children per woman, while the Jewish birth rate was fewer than three. This was before mass Jewish immigration from the former Soviet republics. In 2002, he warned that Israel had just 15 years before its destruction.
Regardless of how credible these warnings are, their political significance is very clear. They are part of a demographic deception devised by Israeli politicians and academic researchers, who use the statistics as a weapon against the Palestinians.
One warning is that in about sixty years, there will be a Palestinian majority in Israel. This has led to many racist demands, including curbs on Palestinian family unification, with claims that 200,000 Palestinians will enter the occupation state within 10 years, and that their number will increase by half a million in 20 years, and by 1.5m in 40 years.
Warnings also arise from military and security officials. They claim that there are a number of threats from what they describe as a demographic revolution in the occupied Palestinian territories, where Jews are now a minority. Questions are asked of the Israeli leadership about how ready they are to lead the country towards an acceptable strategic goal that can secure its future in light of this demographic “nightmare” which will undermine the Zionist project. According to the Israeli Civil Administration, since 2020 Jews have become a minority — 49 per cent — of the total population west of the River Jordan. This may not be realised fully by Israeli citizens who are blind to things that could affect their future.
This has no effect in real terms on the balance of power within Israel, where Jews are still very much the majority, and politicised Israeli statistics claim that 76 per cent of all births in the state are now to Jewish families, compared with 69 per cent in 1995. Nevertheless, this is not the case in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. Hence the imposition of an apartheid system intended to persuade Palestinians to leave their land. The ethnic cleansing of Palestine is ongoing.
Since 2015, the birth-rate differential virtually disappeared, with around three births for both Jewish and Palestinian women. However, in 2020, it was reported that the fertility rate of Palestinian women was down to 2.99.
Demographic experts cite a number of reasons for the increase in the birth rate of Jews. These include the security challenge and the reduction in the number of abortions. What’s more, Israel now has a younger Jewish population, whereas its Palestinian Arab citizens are aging. Successive Israeli governments have targeted the younger generations by expanding the infrastructure for them in order to continue the demographic momentum at least into the next generation.
Israelis apply political and security implications to such statistics, not least that if the number of Jews in Israel increases, then its chances of remaining a strategic ally of the United States also increase. When the UN partition of Palestine resolution was passed in 1947, Jews made up 39 per cent of the population. In 2022, they were a majority at 68 per cent, with 7.5 million Jews, compared with two million Palestinian Arab citizens.
Although I do not trust Israel’s figures, it is facing real and perceived security and military threats, and it definitely believes that the Palestinian demographic “time bomb” is one of them. Jewish demographic superiority is what drives the state, and is essential to maintain the strategic alliance with the United States.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.