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Is the number of Palestinians inflated?
I have done this population study eight years ago, but because it is relevant now to the Palestinian’s quest for a state, it is important to understand their population number and trend.
Recently, I was reading research about Palestinian population distribution, and since I have studied population growth the numbers raised a flag in my mind. The numbers seems to conflict with the numbers I usually see in the media, including the CIA website, and some statistical books too.
In the last few years a lot of concerns were expressed that the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza is growing at a very high rate and in the near future will overtake the Jewish population of Israel of 5 million. The former prime minister, Ehud Barak, was so concerned about the growth that he even offered the Palestinans part of Eastern Jerusalem because it is mostly populated with Arabs. He also offered to compensate the areas taken by the "settlements" with land in the Israeli Galil populated by Israeli Arabs to reduce the Arab population in Israel. Barak wanted them be part of the new Palestinian state. Therefore, the actual number of Palestinian is an important factor in the peace process.
As I looked into statistics of world population growth I noticed that nation after nation has a considerably lower population growth rate then the one claimed by the Palestinians. Then I concentrated on the Arab Middle East and, again, the Palestinians claim of the very high rate of 4% per year is higher than almost all other Arab countries. High population growth is usually associated with high infant mortality, low education, and women subservience. All these factors are not experienced by the Palestinians. Under Israeli administration Palestinian infant mortality was reduced significantly. In addition, the Palestinians education level is much higher than most Arab countries, and Palestinian women have higher education and more freedom than most Arab women.
All of these factors challenged me to look further into their growth statistics.
Let me summarize what I found:
1. Arab [Muslim] countries growth rate:
Syria: 2.6%, a poor country, with life style and culture quiet similar to the Palestinians.
Egypt: 1.9%, a poor country, similar to the lifestyles and culture to the Palestinians
Saudi Arabia: 3.4%, one of the richest countries in the area. Understandably a high growth rate since almost all social services have been paid by the government for decades. Also, Saudi import a large number of foreign workers.
Sudan: 2.1%, with 65% of the population Muslims.
Israeli Arabs: 2.7%, they have a stable life and a much higher standard of living than the Palestinians. Also, many Palestinians have entered Israel both legally [to unite families] and illegally, to become Israeli Arabs to better their standard of living and find security. The number of LEGAL Arab immigration I saw was over 100,000.
2. Palestinian Statistical info *:
Western area: 1967 population 586 thousands; 1986 - 965 thousands, including Arabs in East Jerusalem
Gaza: 1967 population 351 thousands; 1986 - 542 thousands.
Total: 1967 - 937 thousands; 1986 - 1.507 million
Under Israeli control, when data collection was realistic, rate of growth for those twenty years: 2.4%.
I do not see any significant reason why this 2.4% rate would have drastically increased during the period 1987 to the year 2000. Contrary, during the last three years of Palestinian - initiated fighting I would expect that the growth rate would go down due to the considerable disturbance to the population, plus the emigration of many of them to safety, especially Arab Christians that have been discriminated continuously by the Muslim majority. Therefore I used the rate of 2.4%, and the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza would have grown from 1.507 millions to currently 2.25 million. This is a far lower than the 3.5 million usually stated by the Palestinans. The Palestinians are claiming an additional 1.25 million! Essentially inflating their number by 50%.
How is it possible that such a large difference exists? Several significant factors may be involved:
1. From the Arab initiated 1948 war, to date, many Palestinians have been sustained by the United Nation relief organization – UNRWA. Families are paid according to the number of people in the family. Being poor, most families do not report deaths. They also report more births than took place to expand their meager support from the "Rich Western Countries". (The US donates 60% of the funds.) Since local Palestinians supervise these funds they are not inclined to report this distortion of population.
2. I have personally read several edicts by Arab religious leaders that not only permit fabricating facts but say that it is commendable to do so, to help achieve the ultimate goal of defeating the enemy.
3. Professional observer of the Middle East wrote: "Egyptian statisticians, like Egyptian journalists, often seem to make up in imagination what they lack in hard data collection." Raymond Stock, Univ. of Pennsylvania, Middle East Quarterly vol. X-4. I am sure this applies to many other Arab nations.
4. The Muslim leadership in the US funded two Muslim population studies several years ago. I have read that one of them came much lower than they wanted and they fired the individual who did the study and selected another set of results. I believe that their goal was to show that there are more Muslims in the US then Jews, and it is interesting that the number came to six million Muslims, just enough above the about 5 million Jews computed.
The number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is likely to be even lower than the 2.25 million indicated above because many Christians Arabs left the Palestinians areas due to severe discrimination by Muslim Arabs. Also, many wealthy Arabs have left the area in the last three years because of the instability there. In addition, a large number of Palestinians moved to Jordan, the only Arab country who allowed them citizenship. In fact some 60% of the 6.8 million Jordanians have been Palestinians or are their descendents. More Palestinians still want to live in Jordan, but can not. Palestinians who want to pass through Jordan must deposit a very high, refundable, fee until they leave Jordan
In addition, hundred of thousands Palestinians left the areas to work in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other countries with higher wages.
It is questionable if many of the Palestinians who are now living out of the area will want to live in the West Bank or Gaza after the arrival of peace. Even during the "peaceful" years of the Oslo Accord when the Palestinians governed 96% of their own population, corruption and lawlessness have been rampant, the economy was poor, the area small and without many opportunities.
Conclusion: It is likely that the Palestinians have had a similar growth rate** to that of Israel: around 2.4%. Therefore, the number of Palestinans in the West Bank and Gaza is considerably lower than they claim. It is likely to be now around two million total.
* Iyunim Bitkumat Israel, Ben-Gurion Research Center, 1999, Vol 9, p.195
** Note, Palestinian growth rate includes their birth rate, minus death rate, minus emigration, the Israeli growth is due to birth rate, less death rate but plus immigration.