In defiance of demographic fatalism
YORAM ETTINGER , THE JERUSALEM POST Dec. 30, 2009
In 1948, prime minister David Ben-Gurion declared independence in defiance
of demographic fatalism, which was perpetrated by the country's leading
demographers. He rejected their assumptions that Jews were doomed to be a
minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, that a massive
aliya wave was not feasible, that the Jewish fertility rate was declining to
below reproduction levels and that the Arab fertility rate would remain the
highest in the world, irrespective of modernity.
Instead, Ben-Gurion highlighted demographic optimism and aliya as top
national priorities, coalesced a solid Jewish majority and planted the seeds
that catapulted Israel to a Middle East power, highly respected for its
civilian and military achievements.
In 2005, in capitulation to demographic fatalism, prime minister Ariel
Sharon retreated from Palestinian terrorism, uprooting 10,000 Jews from Gaza
and Samaria. Sharon abandoned his lifelong ideology of defiance,
subordinating long-term strategy and security concerns to doomsday
demography. Thus, he facilitated Hamas's takeover of Gaza and its ripple
effects: slackened posture of deterrence, intensified shelling of southern
Israel, the 2006 Second Lebanon War, 2008's Operation Cast Lead, the
Goldstone Report and the exacerbated global pressure on Israel.
DEMOGRAPHIC ASSUMPTIONS have played an increasing role in shaping national
security policy since 1992. But what if these assumptions are dramatically
wrong? For example, since the beginning of annual aliya in 1882 - and in
contradiction to demographic projections - the Jewish population between the
Jordan River and the Mediterranean has grown 238-fold, while the Arab
population increased only sixfold. Since 1948, the Jewish population has
increased almost tenfold, and the Arab population has expanded threefold.
Israel's demographers did not believe that a massive aliya would take place
in the aftermath of the 1948/9 war. One million Jews arrived. They projected
no substantial aliya from the communist bloc during the 1970s. Almost
300,000 Jews arrived. They dismissed the possibility of a massive aliya from
the USSR, even if the gates were opened. One million olim relocated from the
Soviet Union to the Jewish homeland during the 1990s.
Contrary to demographic assumptions, a rapid and drastic decline in Muslim
fertility has been documented by the UN Population Division: Iran - 1.7
births per woman; Algeria - 1.8 births; Egypt - 2.5 births; Jordan - three
births; and so on. The Arab fertility rate in pre-1967 Israel declined 20
years faster than projected, and Judea and Samaria Arab fertility has
dropped below 4.5 births per woman, tending toward three births.
Precedents suggest that low fertility rates can rarely be reversed following
a sustained period of significant reduction.
At the same time, the annual number of Jewish births increased by 45 percent
between 1995 (80,400) and 2008 (117,000), mostly impacted by the demographic
surge within the secular sector. The total annual Arab births in pre-1967
Israel stabilized around 39,000 during the same period, reflecting the
successful Arab integration into the infrastructure of education,
employment, health, trade, politics and sports.
AN AUDIT of the documentation of Palestinian births, deaths and migration,
which is conducted by the Palestinian Authority ministries of Health and
Education and Election Commission, as well as by Israel's Border Police and
Central Bureau of Statistics and by the World Bank, reveals huge
misrepresentations by the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics.
For instance, the PCBS's census includes about 400,000 overseas residents
who have been away for more than one year, ignores high net-emigration
(28,000 in 2008, 25,000 in 2007, etc.) and double-counts some 250,000
Jerusalem Arabs, who are also counted by Israel. Furthermore, a
40,000-60,000 annual birth gap is confirmed between PCBS numbers and the
documentation conducted by the PA Health and Education ministries.
The audit of Palestinian and Israeli documentation exposes a 66% bend in the
current number of Judea and Samaria Arabs - 1.55 million and not 2.5
million, as claimed by the PA. It certifies a solid 67% Jewish majority over
98.5% of the land west of the Jordan River (without Gaza), compared with a
33% and an 8% Jewish minority in 1947 and 1900, respectively, west of the
Jordan River. An 80% majority is attainable by 2035 with the proper
demographic policy, highlighting aliya, returning expatriates, etc.
In conclusion, demographic optimism is well-documented, while demographic
fatalism is resoundingly refuted. There is a demographic problem, but it is
not lethal, and the tailwind is Jewish. Therefore, anyone suggesting that
there is a demographic machete at the throat of the Jewish state and that
Jewish geography must be conceded to secure Jewish demography, is either
grossly mistaken or outrageously misleading.
The writer is executive director of Second Thought, which researches
national security aspects of Judea and Samaria.