Thursday, July 31, 2008

Demographic Optimism, Not Fatalism

Yoram Ettinger

Anyone suggesting that Jews are doomed to become a minority west of the Jordan River is either grossly mistaken or outrageously misleading.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the annual number of Jewish births has increased by 40% between 1995 (80,400) and 2007 (112,543), while the annual number of “Green Line” Arab births has stabilized around 39,000 during the same period. The secular Jewish sector is mostly responsible to the impressive increase, especially Soviet Olim, who shifted from Russian fertility rate of 1 child per woman to the secular Israeli Jewish rate of 2.2 children. Arab-Jewish fertility gap has been reduced from 6 children per woman in 1969 to 0.7 child in 2007! Arab fertility rate (3.5 births per woman) has declined 20 year faster than projected – due to successful integration into Israel’s health, educational, financial and commercial infrastructures - while Jewish fertility rate is rising (2.8 births per woman). Arab-Jewish fertility rates have converged in Jerusalem – 3.9 births per woman – for the first time since 1948. Currently, Israel’s Jewish fertility is the highest in the industrialized world. The Bennett Zimmerman-led “American-Israel Demographic Research Group” (AIDRG) documents a substantial decline of Arab population growth rate in Judea & Samaria and Gaza, primarily, due to annual average net-emigration of well over 10,000 (some 80% from Judea & Samaria). Emigration was encouraged by King Hussein, but was slowed down in 1968 due to the access gained by Palestinians to Israel’s health, educational and employment base. However, emigration has escalated since 2000 due to the Second Intifadah, and shifted to a higher gear following the ascension of Hamas to power and the subsequent civil war with Fatah. Arab net-emigration from Judea & Samaria and Gaza has peaked (25,000 annually in 2006 and 2007) with the rising price of oil, which has increased demand by Persian Gulf sheikdoms for Palestinian workforce. At the same time, the Jewish State has benefited from annual Aliya since 1882, in defiance of Israel’s demographic establishment, which has projected – since 1944 - no substantial waves of Aliya.

A decline in Judea & Samaria and Gaza Arab fertility has been documented by AIDRG, which audited Palestinian births, deaths, school enrollment and voter registration records, kept by the Palestinian Ministries of Health and Education, Palestinian Election Commission and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The decline in fertility is attributed to accelerated urbanization, expanded education, evolving career mentality, higher divorce rate, higher median wedding-age, decline in teen–pregnancy and intense family planning, led by the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA. In fact, such a decline is typical of today’s Muslim countries, forcing the UN Population Division to reduce global population projections by 25%. The unprecedented drop in Muslim fertility has been led by Iran’s Ayatollahs and Mullahs: from 10 children per woman twenty five years ago to 1.8 children today.

AIDRG documents a 1.1MN (40%) artificial inflation in the official number of Palestinians in Gaza, Judea & Samaria (2.7MN and not 3.8MN) and a 53% inflation in the official number of Palestinians in Judea & Samaria alone (1.5MN and not 2.3MN). The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) includes in its census some 400,000 overseas residents, it adds over 200,000 Israeli (Jerusalem) Arabs who are also counted as “Green Line” Arabs, it ignores about 200,000 emigrants (since 1997), etc.

The World Bank 2006 survey of education, in Judea & Samaria and Gaza, documents a 32% gap between the number of Palestinian births claimed by the PCBS, and those documented by the Palestinian Ministries of Health and Education. The World Bank attributes the gap to reduced fertility and escalated emigration.

A solid 67% Jewish majority exists on 98.5% of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (without Gaza), compared with a 33% and an 8% minority – west of the Jordan River - in 1947 and 1900 respectively.

There is a demographic problem, but there is no demographic machete at the throat of the Jewish State. Moreover, the demographic momentum has shifted to the Jewish sector. Demography constitutes a source of hope and optimism, not fatalism and pessimism, when it comes to long-term social, economic, Aliya and national security policy decision-making.

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