by Yakov Faitelson
1st part of 2
With every generation, it seems, a new demographic panic strikes
On February 9, 2008, Luay Shabaneh, the new president of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), published the results of a December 2007 Palestinian Authority population census. According to the new data, since 1997, the Arab population has increased to 1,460,000 in the Gaza Strip and 2,300,000 in the West Bank (including 208,000 in East Jerusalem) to a total of 3,760,000 people — an increase of 30 percent in one decade. East Jerusalem is under
The 30 percent population increase again caused renewed demographic panic in
But unlike what had happened during previous demographic panics, Israeli experts began to raise serious questions about the accuracy of the census. Such questions had been a long time in coming: Most of the middle- and long-term demographic forecasts for Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip — formulated by demographers over the last 110 years — have turned out to be unsound, often dramatically so. This is due to the fact that long-term military, political, economic, and social changes in the region particularly, and in the world in general, cannot be accurately predicted; what is presented with a patina of scientific legitimacy is often simply someone's best guess. Added to this problem is a more troublesome one: Population statistics and birth rates play such an important role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — from the way that foreign aid is allocated to
Those who questioned the new Palestinian census were correct: The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics' demographic data arrived at its data not through objective scientific inquiry but rather by overstating the size of the Arab population residing in the territories administered by the Palestinian Authority.
The History of Demographic Forecasts
In a March 1898 letter, the famous Jewish historian, Simon Dubnow, criticized Zionist ideas, writing,
During seventeen years of tense work to encourage substantial emigration, after the expense of vast means and with the help of millions donated by Rothschild, we managed to place on the
In May 1948, only fifty years after Dubnow's projections, the Jews in
Such mistaken projections, however, have been the rule rather than the exception. At the end of 1944, Roberto Bachi presented to the Jewish National Council, the main institution of the Jewish community during the British Mandate, a secret demographic report that included four forecasts: optimistic and pessimistic, and with Jewish immigration as a variable. Bachi based his forecasts on the existing demographic data for 1938-42 and on estimates of trends that could be accepted as reasonable. He assumed that Arab fertility for the ensuing sixty years would continue to be very high (seven children or more per woman) or that it would decrease only slightly (six children per woman). He also assumed that Jewish fertility would remain at about two children per woman but might increase slightly to three children per woman. He also predicted that Jewish immigration might bring about one million Jews to
These estimates could not be treated as prophecy, wrote Bachi, since the differences between reality and forecast increase as the projected time period lengthens. According to Bachi's pessimistic scenario, by 1971, the population of Palestine would include 2,467,000 Arabs and 604,000 Jews without Jewish immigration or 1,695,000 Jews should there have been one million Jewish immigrants. According to Bachi's more optimistic forecasts, the population of Palestine in the same year could consist of 2,186,000 Arabs and 698,000 Jews without immigration or 1,898,000 Jews with a million Jewish immigrants.
Fast-forward to 1971. Israel controlled the whole territory of the former British Mandate in Palestine, and 2,662,000 Jews already lived in Israel — about half a million more than in Bachi's most optimistic projection. The Arab population stood at 1,460,000, about one million fewer than he had predicted. Then in 1972, Bachi predicted, as he had in 1956, that immigration to Israel would stop as the Jews of the West were indifferent and the Jews of the Soviet Union were forever trapped. Nevertheless, over the next seven years, more than a quarter million Jews migrated to Israel.
His projections for 2001 were similarly off-base: According to the pessimistic forecast, the population of
The reality was quite different. The Jewish population reached 5,025,010, nine times more than his pessimistic projection, and 2.2 times more than his most optimistic forecast. When combined with the immigrant population from the former
Amidst the 1987 Palestinian uprising against Israeli control in the West Bank and
Putting aside the fact that the figures did not justify the headlines proclaiming a Jewish minority, Sofer actually miscalculated the Arab population twice: First, by using the 1986 Central Bureau of Statistics forecast made for 2002 for all Arabs — defined officially as citizens and permanent residents of the State of Israel, including East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights — as the Arab population of Israel only "within the Green Line," i.e., exclusive of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights; and, second, by folding the Arab population of East Jerusalem into the forecast of the Arab population in the Palestinian territories. Then, he presented the forecast for the West Bank and Gaza Strip including
A month later, Sofer explained his forecast: "Without even considering birth rates, to make up one percentage point today, we need an additional 170,000 Jews ...Who among us really expects that sort of aliya (migration to
(Yakov Faitelson )
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