The Demographic Race - I
My understanding of the matter has changed considerably since this post. Read The true convergence for my current view of the demographic situation of Israel.
The opening clause of 'The demographics point to a binational state' by Ya'ir Sheleg, published by Haaretz in 2004, got my attention by its striking similarity to the argument I was making in 'Wild South'.
In fact it's not for nothing that the Arab share of Israel's population has been always hovering around 20% since 1948. It testifies to the extreme demographic robustness of the Arab sector that holds out against all 'aliyot', big and small, whether they are from Morocco or from Russia. More than one million 'Russians' came to Israel over the last 15 years. Yet the Arab sector survived them all, stuck at 20%. It's hard to believe that the coming decades will bring massive Jewish immigrations as apart from the US heavily assimilated community, there are left not so many Jews in the world. This means that the following decades may be critical and if nothing is done we will be soon talking about something much more than 20%.
At the end of the War of Independence, after the expulsion and flight of some 700,000 Arabs, the population of Israel consisted of 82 percent Jews and 18 percent Arabs. In 2003, 54 years and almost 3 million immigrants later, the Central Bureau of Statistics' official figures indicated a similar Jewish-Arab ratio (81 percent Jews, 19 percent Arabs), with the figure for Jews including non-Jewish immigrants.
If we assume that the proportion of Jews in the population is, in fact, even lower (because the figures do not reflect Palestinians residing in Israel illegally) and that massive immigration is no longer very likely, it becomes clear why more and more demographic experts and Jewish politicians see the question of a "Jewish majority" in Israel as a central issue, even within the 1967 borders.
Professor Sergio DellaPergola, a demographer from the Hebrew University's Institute of Contemporary Jewry, is among the more moderate members of his profession. His style is not apocalyptic, and his predictions tend to be highly cautious (some experts, as will be shown later, consider them too cautious). And yet even he is worried.
According to DellaPergola analysis, Israel's advantage in immigration is being steadily eroded and he is expecting net immigration increase of only 105,000 people in the first decade of the 21st century , 50,000 in the second and less than 30,000 in the third. And this does not mean that immigration is a special privilege of the Jewish sector:
A research project recently conducted at the Israel Defense Forces National Defense College shows that the number of Palestinians that have entered sovereign Israel in the decade since the Oslo Accords (whether illegally or through legal marriages and family unification) is around 240,000. Family unification permits have been almost entirely suspended since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000, but Palestinian immigration to East Jerusalem has increased, reaching 70,000-100,000 people during this period, the researchers estimate.
When it comes to birth rates, here the Arab sector has a clear advantage of 4.6 births per woman vs 2.6 in the Jewish sector.
When the state was established, the average birth rate among Muslims was eight births per woman. In the sixties the figure leaped to 10 births; today it stands at 4.6 births. The Druze population began with an average of seven births per woman; the figure rose to eight in the sixties and is now 8.2 per woman. Only the Christians, who began with an average rate of 4.5 births, now fall below the Jewish average with 2.3 births per woman.
Some Israelis may breath a sigh of relief on learning that by 2050 the birth rates in both sectors are expected to stabilize with the Arab sector accounting for under 30% of the population. Yet it's more complicated than this. DellaPergola is held to be the most relaxed of all 'demographic' forecasters. The rest are nowhere as relaxed as he is, and even DellaPergola is worried so much that he urges:
"swapping heavily populated areas - annexing the Jewish population clusters in the West Bank, in exchange for annexing to the Palestinian Authority areas with a dense Arab population, especially if they are already adjacent to the PA."
The false sense of relief quickly evaporates when confronted with the calculations by one of the leading alarmists, prof. Arnon Soffer, Chair of Geostrategy at Haifa University. Soffer approach is different and more detailed, as he is taking into account Palestinians residing in the country illegally, the figure estimated to be 220,000 in 2002, and foreign laborers. Soffer holds it impossible to forecast demographic trends for periods exceeding a range of 20 years and on these grounds he is not ready to discuss anything beyond the year 2020. By 2020, according to Soffer, the Arab sector will already cross 26% landmark earmarked by DellaPergola for 2050.
in 2020 the Israeli population (which he claims will number some 10 million people) will consist of 64 percent Jews, 4 percent non-Jewish immigrants, 5 percent foreign laborers, 25 percent Arabs and 2 percent Druze.
Given that the article was published in 2004, these estimates missed out on the vigorous campaign mounted by the Israeli government to expel foreign laborers, a remarkable feat of shooting one's own foot in the history of this country. Between 200,000 and 300,000 gastarbaiters were expelled, many left voluntarily, which means that the Arab sector will account for 29% of the population by 2020.
What's missing in this picture among others is any attempt to predict the effect of a large scale unrest in the Arab sector on the immigration in the Jewish sector. This is particularly strange given that Soffer himself has given the maximum of five years for the Intifada in Negev to be in full swing.
"I say that within five years, the next intifada will break out in the northern Negev. Deterioration has already begun, with stone throwing, blocking of roads and Bedouin shooting at Israeli cars. It will grow to an extent where Jews will not be able to drive in the South. We must take note that all four main roads in the Negev - Tel Shoqet-Arad, Be'er Sheva-Dimona, Be'er Sheva-Ramat Hovav-Yeruham and the Gvulot Revivim road - are controlled by Bedouin. The South has been taken hostage by the Bedouin."
As a leading strategist of the unilateral disengagement policy (mainly for demographic reasons), he [Soffer] sees separation as a major variable that will affect the demographic balance. The policy, he argues, should include parting with East Jerusalem, "except for the Holy Basin, which alone has historic importance for us." Moreover, he believes that disengagement and building the separation fence will have an indirect effect on the demographic picture. "It will not only prevent West Bank and Gaza Arabs from being included in our demographic balance, and greatly reduce the entrance of Palestinians from the territories into Israel; building the fence is expected to have a favorable effect on both security and the economy, and this in turn will make Israel more appealing to potential immigrants, especially among the threatened Jews of France."
By the way both Soffer and DellaPergola address the point I was making in 'Wild South':
Yet I suspect that the statistics may be misleading since they treat the Arab sector as a whole ignoring the hardcore demographically intensive nucleus forming itself in Negev. Next years may bring a gradual increase in the population growth of the Arab sector with the nomads reversing the trend. As the Bedouins' share of the general Arab population is increasing the overall growth rate will start moving closer to Negev standards. Anyway it's only my guesses because to expect from the media an honest discussion and analysis of the demographic situation is really too much these days.
To produce more accurate estimates about fertility trends, demographers strive for a detailed breakdown of Israel's Muslim society (Muslims account for over 80 percent of the Arab sector). As it turns out, there are distinct differences not only between Muslims and Christians, but within the Muslim population itself. In northern Israel the average birth rate for Muslim women is 3.9; in the Jerusalem district - 4.3; in the central region - 4.9; and in the south (whose Muslims are mostly Bedouin) the figure leaps to an average of nine births per woman - the highest in the world (higher than in the Gaza Strip).
. . .
Dr. Yitzhak Ravid is an economist who formerly headed the center for military studies at the Armaments Development Authority (Rafael) and in recent years has come to specialize in demographics . . .
. . .
Ravid attributes the high Bedouin birth rate to "the rare combination of Third World birth norms and the health care of a developed Western country." He adds that "the state's child allowances are set according to the needs of a Western population. But because children are much less expensive to raise in the Bedouin villages, the allowances become additional income for the family and an incentive to procreate."
The author of this blog had a rare privilege to get a glimpse into the future during the last years of Oslo, when some bus lines in Jerusalem turned into unusable for Israelis. The massive presence of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank on these lines, who were bullying passengers and harassing women, caused many people to switch to alternative lines or to use taxes. At one point 'Nobody' gave up on line 11 he had used for two years before to get to his work and started taking taxes. He did not try to board the line until the beginning of the second intifada, when the 'iron curtain' came back and with it the city returned to its previous state of virtual separation.
Much of the statistics done by DelaPergulo and Soffer don't take into account the possibility of unrest in the Arab sector and its impact on the demographic situation. But it does not take a very big brain to see that the situation may get dangerous long before the Arab population in this country start seeing any chance of becoming majority. In fact, from the moment the explosion point in the Arab sector is reached, a vicious circle may develop when the progressively larger and more restless Arab population scares more and more Israelis into leaving the country. And this will in turn make the Arab population even more emboldened. Here may come into play the clear difference between the Arab and Israeli populations in terms of emigration, since for Israelis it's much easier to leave the country and move elsewhere while the majority of Israeli Arabs have nowhere to go. In short it's not when the Arab sector starts approaching 50% that Israel will start seeing the beginning of its end on the horizon. The explosion point should be at between 25% and 30%, maximum 35%. And it is at this point that the vicious circle starts.
Ironically, for Israel, all this is happening at the moment when the technological and economic gap between it and its neighbors has become so huge that this nation may be very close to the point of winning its 60 years long battle for survival. The next generation of anti missile defense technology may render obsolete the ballistic arsenals of both Hezbollah and Iran. Within a decade Israel may join the ranks of the world's most prosperous and developed nations. $30,000 GDP per head is certainly within its reach. The elevated and still rising living standards mean that if Israel ever decides to resort to non Jewish non Muslim immigration to fend off the incoming demographic onslaught of its Arab sector there will be no shortage in candidates.
For Israel it is its last battle and it is either to win it all or to lose it ... all.
Back to HappyArabNews