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Demographic optimism, not fatalism

by Yoram Ettinger
Special to WJW

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 percent 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.

Among Jews, the secular sector is mostly responsible for the impressive increase, especially immigrants from the former Soviet Union, whose fertility rate shifted from Russian rate of one child per woman to the secular Israeli Jewish rate of 2.2 children. The Arab-Jewish fertility gap has been reduced from six children per woman in 1969 to 0.7 child in 2007.

In the Arab community, the fertility rate (3.5 births per woman) has declined 20 years 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). In Jerusalem, Arab and Jewish fertility rates have converged – 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 in the Arab population growth rate in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), as well as in Gaza, primarily due to annual average net-emigration of more than 10,000. Prior to 1967, Jordan’s King Hussein had encouraged emigration, but that slowed down in 1968 due to the new Palestinian access to Israel’s health, educational and employment base.

Following the second Intifada in 2000, emigration shifted to a higher gear, peaking (25,000 annually in 2006 and 2007) with the rising price of oil, which has increased demand by Persian Gulf sheikdoms for Palestinian work force.

At the same time, the Jewish state benefited from continued aliyah.

Through audits of 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, AIDRG was able to document the decline in Arab fertility.

This decline 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 the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

In fact, such a decline is typical of today’s Muslim countries, forcing the U.N. Population Division to reduce global population projections by 25 percent. The unprecedented drop in Muslim fertility has been led by Iran’s ayatollahs and mullahs – from 10 children per woman 25 years ago to 1.8 children today.

AIDRG also has documented a 1.1 million (40 percent) artificial inflation in the official number of Palestinians in Gaza, Judea and Samaria (2.7 million, not 3.8 million) and a 53 percent inflation in the official number of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria alone (1.5 million and not 2.3 million).

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) includes in its census some 400,000 overseas residents, it adds more than 200,000 Israeli (Jerusalem) Arabs who are also counted as Green Line Arabs, and it ignores about 200,000 emigrants (since 1997), etc.

The World Bank 2006 survey of education in Gaza, Judea and Samaria documents a 32 percent 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 percent Jewish majority exists on 98.5 percent of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (without Gaza), compared with a 33 percent and an 8 percent 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.

When it comes to long-term social, economic, aliyah and national security policy decision-making, demography constitutes a source of hope and optimism, not fatalism and pessimism.

Yoram Ettinger, a member of the American-Israel Demographic Research Group, was minister for congressional affairs at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, 1989-1992.[

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