Demographic history of Palestine (region)

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Palestine demographics, 1st century through the Mandate.
Figures in thousands.
See also the detailed timeline
Year Jews Christians Muslims Total
1st c. Majority ~1,250
4th c. Majority Minority >1st c.[1][2]
5th c. Minority Majority >1st c.
End 12th c. Minority Minority Majority >225
14th c. Minority Minority Majority 150
1533–1539 5 6 145 156
1553–1554 7 9 188 205
1690–1691 2 11 219 232
1800 7 22 246 275
1890 43 57 432 532
1914 94 70 525 689
1922 84 71 589 752
1931 175 89 760 1,033
1947 630 143 1,181 1,970
Estimates by Sergio DellaPergola (2001), drawing on the work of Bachi (1975). Figures in thousands.[3]

The population of the region of Palestine, which approximately corresponds to modern Israel and the Palestinian territories, has varied in both size and ethnic composition throughout the history of Palestine.

Studies of Palestine's demographic changes over the millennia have shown that a Jewish majority in the first century CE had changed to a Christian majority by the 3rd century CE,[4] and later to a Muslim majority, which is thought to have existed in Mandatory Palestine (1920-1948) since at least the 12th century CE, during which the total shift to Arabic language was completed.[5]

Iron Age

During the seventh century BC, no fewer than eight nations were settled in Palestine. These included the Arameans of the kingdom of Geshur; the Samaritans who replaced the Israelite kingdom in Samaria; the Phoenicians in the northern cities and parts of Galilee; the Philistines in the Philistine pentapolis; the three kingdoms of the TransjordanAmmon, Moab and Edom; and the Judaeans of Kingdom of Judah.[6]

According to Finkelstein and Broshi, the population of Palestine at the end of the eighth century BC was around 400,000. In the area of Judah in the central hills, Benjamin and Jerusalem, the population was approximately 110,000. By the early sixth century, Ofer's survey results suggest that around 100,000 lived in the kingdom of Judah, with the population in the central hills, Benjamin and Jerusalem about 69,000.[7]

A study by Yigal Shiloh of The Hebrew University suggests that the population of Palestine in the Iron Age could have never exceeded one million. He writes: "... the population of the country in the Roman-Byzantine period greatly exceeded that in the Iron Age..." Shiloh accepted Israeli archaeologist Magen Broshi's estimates of Palestine's population at 1,000,000–1,250,000 and noted that Iron Age Israel's population must have been less considering population growth. "...If we accept Broshi's population estimates, which appear to be confirmed by the results of recent research, it follows that the estimates for the population during the Iron Age must be set at a lower figure."[8] One study of population growth from 1,000 BCE to 750 BCE estimated the population of Palestine (Judah and Israel) had an average natural growth of 0.4 per cent per annum.[9]

Persian period

Population distribution in Persian period Yehud
Territory Carter Lipschits Finkelstein
Benjamin 7625 12,500 -
Jerusalem (and environs) 1500 2750 400[fn 1]
Northern Judean Hills 8850 9750 -
Southern Judean Hills 2150 - -
Shephelah - 4875 -
Judean Desert/Eastern Strip 525 250 -
Total 20,650 30,125 12,000
Lipshits' data from The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem: Judah under Babylonian Rule, Carter's data from The Emergence of Yehud in the Persian Period, Finkelstein's data from The Territorial Extent and Demography of Yehud/Judea

After the Babylonian conquest of Judah and exile, the population and settlement density of Jerusalem, the Shephelah and the Naqab desert dropped significantly.[10] The Persian province of Yehud Medinata was sparsely-populated and predominantly rural, with around half of the settlements of late Iron age Judah and a population of around 30,000 in the 5th to 4th centuries BC.[11][12] On the other hand, settlement continuity is discerned in the northern parts of the Judean mountains and the Benjamin area. Cities such as Tell en-Nasbeh, Gibeon and Bethel managed to escape destruction and remained continuously inhabited until the early Achaemenid rule.[10]

As early as the 7th century BC, Edomites had lived in the Naqab desert and southern Judah, and by the time Judah fell in 586 BC there was already a substantial Edomite population in southern Judah. When the kingdom of Edom itself succumbed, those people continued its traditions in the south, which the Arabic-speaking Qedarites controlled.[13][14][10][15] This area, which became known as Idumaea, was inhabited by a diverse population of Edomites, Judahites, Phoenicians, Qedarites and other Arabs.[16] Based on analysis of epigraphic material and ostraca from the region, around 32% of recorded names were Arabic, 27% were Edomite, 25% were Northwest Semitic, 10% were Judahite (Hebrew) and 5% were Phoenician.[17] A few names were also classified Egyptian and Old Iranian.[14]

The exilic returnees resettled during the time of Cyrus the Great, perhaps with a heightened sense of their ethnic identity.[10] Along the coast of western Palestine, the Phoenicians expanded their presence, while Moabites and Ammonites took refuge in the Cisjordan after the destruction of their kingdoms in 582 BC.[10]

Hellenic and Hasmonean period

Following the Macedonian conquest of the Achaemenid Empire and the subsequent Wars of the Diadochi, Palestine came under Hellenistic rule and was contested by the Seleucids and Ptolemaics.[18]

Between 167 and 160 BC, the Jewish rebel faction of the Maccabees revolted against Seleucid rule, ultimately leading to the independence of the Hasmonean dynasty. Under John Hyrcanus, the Hasmoneans expanded their territories beyond the traditional confines of Judea and incorporated non-Jewish areas in the process.[19][20][21][22] 1 Maccabees relates that the non-Jewish inhabitants of Gezer and Joppa were expelled by Simon Thassi, who settled Jews in their place.[23] Coinciding with the account of Josephus, archaeological evidence attests to significant destruction in the urban and rural settlements in Idumaea, Samaria and the coastal cities from the Hasmonean conquests, followed by the resettlement of Jews in the newly conquered territories.[24] Nevertheless, there's evidence that some of the non-Jewish inhabitants stayed in all of the newly conquered areas.[19]

Many sites in Idumaea experienced destruction, including Maresha, Khirbet el-Rasm, Tel Arad, Khirbet 'Uza and possibly Lachish. The lower city of Maresha and Tel Beersheba were soon abandoned, and evidence for an increased Idumaean presence in Egypt suggests some immigrated there. Idumaeans were eventually forcibly proselytized and co-opted into the Jewish nation by John Hyrcanus.[19] Further north, the Galilee received significant Jewish migration from Judea after its conquest, contributing to a 50% increase in settlements, while the pagan population was greatly reduced. By the end of Alexander Jannaeus' reign, the Galilee was also predominantly Jewish.[25] However, unlike John Hyrcanus, Alexander Jannaeus did not compel the non-Jews to assimilate to the Jewish ethnos and permitted minority ethnē to exist within Hasmonean borders, with the exception of Phoenician coastal cities in the north whom Josephus claims he enslaved.

Roman period

The Roman conquest of Judea led by Pompey took place in 63 BC. The Roman occupation encompassed the end of Jewish independence in Judea, the last years of the Hasmonean kingdom, the Herodian age and the rise of Christianity, the First Jewish–Roman War, and the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple.[26] The total population of Pharisees, the forerunners of modern Rabbinic Judaism, was around 6,000 ("exakischilioi"), according to Josephus.[27] Local population displacements occurred with the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem[28] – "In the earlier revolt in the previous century, 66–73 CE, Rome destroyed the Temple and forbade Jews to live in the remaining parts of Jerusalem; for this reason, the Rabbis gathered instead on the Mediterranean coast in Yavneh near Jaffa". Dispersal to other parts of the Roman Empire occurred, but some earlier settlements were also established as early as 4 BC.[29]

Modern estimates vary: Applebaum argues that in the Herodian kingdom, there were 1.5 million Jews, a figure Ben David says covers the numbers in Judea alone. Salo Wittmayer Baron estimated the population at 2.3 million at the time of Roman emperor Claudius (reigned 41–54). According to Israeli archeologist Magen Broshi, west of the Jordan River the population certainly did not exceed 1 million:[30]

"... the population of Palestine in antiquity did not exceed a million persons. It can also be shown, moreover, that this was more or less the size of the population in the peak period – the late Byzantine period, around AD 600"[31]

Broshi made calculations based on the grain-producing capacity of Palestine and on its role in the indigenous diet, assuming an average annual per-capita consumption of 200 kg. (with a maximum of 250 kg.), which would work out to the limit of a sustainable population of 1,000,000 people, a figure which, Broshi states, remained roughly constant down to the end of the Byzantine period (600 CE).[32] The proportion of Jews to gentiles is also unknown.[30]

The Bar Kokhba revolt in the 2nd century saw a major shift in the population of Palestine. The sheer scale and scope of the overall destruction, according to a late epitome of Dio Cassius's Roman History, where he states that Roman war operations in the country had left some 580,000 Jews dead, with many more dying of hunger and disease, while 50 of their most important outposts and 985 of their most famous villages were razed to the ground. "Thus," writes Dio Cassius, "nearly the whole of Judaea was made desolate."[33][34] Goodblatt contends that while Bar Kokhba rendered much of the Judaean Mountains and the Hebron Hills desolate, Jewish communities continued to thrive in other parts of Judea and Palestine as a whole.

"The destruction of the Jewish metropolis of Jerusalem and its environs and the ventual refoundation of the city as the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina had lasting repercussions. However, in other parts of Palestine the Jewish population remained strong. Literary and archaeological evidence indicates that in the Late Roman-early Byzantine era Jewish commuinities thrived along the eastern, southern and western edges of Judah, in the Galilee, Golan and the Beisan region. And a strong Jewish presence continued throughout this period in many poleis, including Caesarea Maritima and Scythopolis."[35]

When exactly Jews became a minority is disputed.[30][35] Eschel argues that a combination of three events: the rise of Christianity, the Jewish-Roman wars and Jewish Diaspora made Jews in the minority.[36] David Goodblatt contends that Jews suffered a setback following the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136), noting that Jews were still in the majority until the 3rd century and even beyond, when Christianity became the empire's official religion, and continued to thrive in different parts of Palestine.[35] According to Doron Bar, archaeological evidence of synagogue remains demonstrate a central Jewish presence throughout Palestine during the entire Byzantine period.[37]

The 'ascension' of Constantine the Great in 312 and Christianity becoming the official state religion of Rome in 391, consequently brought to an end Jewish dominance in Palestine.[38] Already by the mid-3rd century the Jewish majority had been reported to have been lost, while others conclude that a Jewish majority lasted much longer – "What does seem clear is a different kind of change – immigration of Christians and the conversion of pagans, Samaritans, and Jews eventually produced a Christian majority".[4] After the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132–136 CE the make-up of the population of Palestine remains in doubt due to the sparsity of data in the historical record. Figures vary considerably as to the demographics of Palestine in the Christian era.[39]

No reliable data exist on the population of Palestine in the pre-Muslim period, either in absolute terms or in terms of shares of total population. Although many Jews were killed, expelled or sold off into slavery after the AD 66–70 and the 123–125 rebellions, the degree to which these transfers affected the Jewish dominance in Palestine is rarely addressed. What is certain is that Palestine did not lose its Jewish component. Goldblatt[4] concludes that the Jews may have remained a majority into the 3rd century AD and even beyond. He notes that 'Jewish followers of Jesus' (Jewish Christians) would not have taken part in the rebellions. Moreover, non-Christian conversions from Judaism after the Bar Kochba revolt were not given much attention.[40]

"Indeed, many must have reacted to the catastrophe with despair and total abandonment of Judaism. Apostates from Judaism (aside from converts to Christianity) received little notice in antiquity from either Jewish or non-Jewish writers, but ambitious individuals are known to have turned pagan before the war, and it stands to reason that many more did so after its disastrous conclusion. It is impossible to determine the number who joined the budding Christian movement and the number who disappeared into the polytheist majority."

Byzantine period

Byzantine provinces of Palestine

The administrative reorganization of the region in 284–305 AD by the Eastern Romans produced three Palestinian provinces of "Greater Palestine" which lasted from the 4th to the early 7th centuries: Palaestina Prima, which included the historic regions of Philistia, Judea and Samaria with the capital in Caesarea Maritima; Palaestina Secunda, which included the Galilee, the Golan Heights, as well as parts of Perea (western Transjordan) and the Decapolis, with its capital being Scythopolis; and Palaestina Salutaris which included Idumaea, the Naqab desert, Arabia Petraea, parts of Sinai, and Transjordan south of the Dead Sea, with its capital in Petra.[41][5]

Under the Byzantines, the religious landscape of Palestine underwent a significant transformation, propelled by the widescale Christianization of the local Jewish, pagan and Samaritan communities, as well as immigration of Christian pilgrims and monks into the Holy land.[42][43][44][45] After the failure of Bar Kokhba revolt in 135, Jews were barred from living in a large part of former Judaea.[46] During this period, Jews were concentrated in the Galilee, the Golan and marginal areas of the Judaean hills,[47] between Eleutheropolis and Hebron in the Daromas,[46] with significant Jewish settlement in the strip between Ein Gedi and Ascalon.[43] Jews also lived in the southern Jordan Valley near Jericho, where they were employed in date and Balsam plantations; around Narbata, in Samaria and in the Jezreel Valley. However, the main centres of Jewish life and culture during this period were the cosmopolitan cities of the coastal plains, particularly Lydda, Jamnia, Azotus and Caesarea Maritima.[46] Samaritans, originally concentrated in communities around Mount Gerizim, had spread beyond Samaria proper in the second century and established communities in the coastal plains, Judea and the Galilee, with some Samaritan villages located as far as Golan.[43] However, the Samaritan revolts against the Byzantines in 484–573 and their forced conversion to Christianity under Maurice (582–602) and Heraclius (610–641) significantly diminished their numbers.[45][44][48][49][50][51]

Pagan tradition flourished in the period before Constantine,[46] and pagans were a majority in the coastal plains,[47] Judea, Samaria, the Naqab and much of the urban centers.[43][52] Although proscribed in the Bible, pagan cults had thrived in Palestine throughout the First and Second Temple period, and many Jews did not escape it.[53][46][54][55][56] According to E. Friedheim, many Jews in Palestine also embraced paganism and pagan cults again following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.[57] Talmudic tradition forbid customs relating to 'the Amorite ways', showing a persistence of ancient Canaanite customs among the non-Jewish population and their inconsistent penetration into Jewish circles.[55]

Christian presence at the start of this period was mainly evidenced in Hellenistic cities and some of the villages in southern Judea.[43] However, Christianity's early influence in either the Jewish, Samaritan or pagan rural areas was minor and came at a much later stage around the sixth century, when many of the community churches in Judea, western Galilee, the Naqab and other places were built.[58][59][37][60] By the fifth century, many pagan temples in Palestine including those in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Mamre, Tel Qadesh and Tel Dan, had been demolished, and churches were erected in their place.[42][58][61][59] In the rural sector, vast areas of Palestine, such as Galilee and Samaria, had Jewish and Samaritan majorities, and Christianity spread in these areas far more gradually and at a slower pace, achieving real momentum only during the second half of the Byzantine period.[37][62][35] Christianity had also spread in the Nabataean cities, towns and villages in southern Palestine, where a mixed Christian and pagan population lived, with elaborate churches built in Abdah, Mampsis and Subeita.[63]

Palestine reached its peak population of around 1 to 1.5 million during this period. However, estimates of the relative proportions of Jews, Samaritans and pagans vary widely and are speculative. By counting settlements, Avi-Yonah estimated that Jews comprised half the population of the Galilee at the end of the 3rd century, and a quarter in the other parts of the country, but had declined to 10–15% of the total by 614.[4] On the other hand, by counting churches and synagogues, Tsafrir estimated the Jewish proportion to be 25% in the Byzantine period.[4] Stemberger, however, considers that Jews were the largest population group at the beginning of the 4th century, closely followed by the pagans.[64] According to Schiffman, DellaPergola and Bar, Christians only became the majority of the country's population at the beginning of the fifth century,[65][66][58]

Islamic Period

Early Islamic Syria (Bilad al-Sham) and its provinces under the Abbasids in the 9th century

Prior to the Muslim conquest of Palestine (635–640), Palaestina Prima had a population of 700,000, of which around 100,000 were Jews and 30-80,000 were Samaritans,[67] with the remainder being Chalcedonian and Miaphysite Christians.[5][68][69]

The pace of conversion to Islam among the Christian, Jewish, and Samaritan communities in Palestine varied during the early period (638–1098),[70] and opinions vary regarding the extent of Islamization during the early Islamic period.[71] While some argue Palestine was already majority Muslim by the time of arrival of the First Crusade, others contend that Christians were still in the majority and the process of mass adoption of Islam took place only from the 13th century onwards, during the Mamluk period.[71] Archaeologist Gideon Avni argues that archaeological surveys show that most Christian settlements and sites preserved their identity up to the crusader period, supplemented by the numerosity of churches and monasteries all over Palestine.[72] The early Muslim population, on the other hand, was confined to the Umayyad palaces in the Jordan Valley and around the Sea of Galilee, the ribat fortresses along the coast and the farms of the Naqab desert. Thus, conversion to Islam only gained real momentum in Palestine after Saladin's conquest of Jerusalem in 1187 and the expulsion of Franks.[72] Michael Ehrlich, on the other hand, believes conversion was rather quick and finalized by the time the crusades arrived in 1099.[70]

Urban centers continued to flourish after the Islamic conquest, but changes took place in the 9th and 10th centuries.[63][72] According to Ellenblum, climate disasters and earthquakes in the late 10th & 11th centuries created internal chaos and famines throughout the Middle East, as well as population decline.[73] Ehrlich argues the decline in urban centers likely caused local ecclesiastical administrations to weaken or disappear altogether, leaving Christians most susceptible to conversion. When certain urban centers collapsed, surrounding communities would have converted to Islam.[70] Per Ellenblum, the eastern Galilee and central Samaria, where Jews and Samaritans were concetrated respectively, were converted rather quickly and had a Muslim or Jewish-Muslim majority by the crusader period.[70][74] In Samaria, the sedentarization of nomadic tribes that penetrated Samaria was complemented by the mass conversion of the Samaritan population starting from the Tulunid period (884–905).[75] By the 12th century, central Samaria was the only fully Islamized region in Palestine, while Christians predominated in southern Samaria, the Sinjil-Jerusalem area, the western Galilee and the Hebron Hills, which only converted in later periods.[74] The introduction of Islam in the Hebron hills is archaeologically attested in Jewish villages but not Christian ones, mainly in Susya and Eshtemoa, where the local synagogues were repurposed as mosques.[72]

Coastal cities such as Ramla and Ascalon thrived under the Fatimids (969–1099), where many Shiite scholars sought refuge and Shiite shrines were built,[76] and the hinterland of Ramla was predominantly Muslim when the crusaders conquered it.[70] On the other hand, Sufis played an important role in the Islamization of the hinterland of Jerusalem, where they built many religious buildings during the Mamluk period, transforming the cultural landscape. According to Nimrod Luz, when a Sufi settled in a Christian village, the local population often converted to Islam.[77][78][79] According to Reuven Atimal, conversion to Islam appears to have halted and apparently even been reversed under the Kingdom of Jerusalem (1099–1291). With the advent of the Ayyubids (1187–1260) and then the consequent Mamluk takeover (1260–1517), it appears that the process of religious conversion to Islam was accelerated. By the start of the Ottoman period in 1516, it is commonly thought that the Muslim majority in the country was more-or-less like that of the mid-19th century.[80] Conversion among the Samaritan families of Nablus to Islam continued well into the 19th century.[81][82]

Early Ottoman period

Year Population
Ottoman Muslims Jews Christians Total
1850–1851 1267 300,000 13,000 27,000 340,000
1860–1861 1277 325,000 13,000 31,000 369,000
1877–1878 1295 386,320 13,942 40,588 440,850
1878–1879 1296 390,597 14,197 41,331 446,125
1879–1880 1297 394,935 14,460 42,089 451,484
1880–1881 1298 399,334 14,731 42,864 456,929
1881–1882 1299 403,795 15,011 43,659 462,465
1882–1883 1300 408,318 15,300 44,471 468,089
1883–1884 1301 412,906 15,599 45,302 473,807
1884–1885 1302 417,560 15,908 46,152 479,620
1885–1886 1303 422,280 16,228 47,022 485,530
1886–1887 1304 427,068 16,556 47,912 491,536
1887–1888 1305 431,925 16,897 48,823 497,645
1888–1889 1306 436,854 17,249 49,756 503,859
1889–1890 1307 441,267 17,614 51,065 509,946
1890–1891 1308 445,728 17,991 52,412 516,131
1891–1892 1309 450,239 18,380 53,792 522,411
1892–1893 1310 454,799 18,782 55,212 528,793
1893–1894 1311 459,410 19,198 56,670 535,278
1894–1895 1312 464,550 19,649 57,815 542,014
1895–1896 1313 469,750 20,117 58,987 548,854
1896–1897 1314 475,261 20,780 59,903 555,944
1897–1898 1315 480,843 21,466 60,834 563,143
1898–1899 1316 486,850 22,173 61,810 570,833
1899–1900 1317 492,940 22,905 62,801 578,646
1900–1901 1318 499,110 23,662 63,809 586,581
1901–1902 1319 505,364 24,446 64,832 594,642
1902–1903 1320 511,702 25,257 65,872 602,831
1903–1904 1321 518,126 26,096 66,928 611,150
1904–1905 1322 524,637 26,965 68,002 619,604
1905–1906 1323 531,236 27,862 69,092 628,190
1906–1907 1324 537,925 28,791 70,201 636,917
1907–1908 1325 544,704 29,753 71,327 645,784
1908–1909 1326 551,576 30,749 72,471 654,796
1909–1910 1327 558,541 31,778 73,633 663,952
1910–1911 1328 565,601 32,843 74,815 673,259
1910–1911 1329 572,758 33,946 76,015 682,719
1911–1912 1330 580,012 35,087 77,235 692,334
1912–1913 1331 587,366 36,267 78,474 702,107
1913–1914 1332 594,820 37,489 79,734 712,043
1914–1915 1333 602,377 38,754 81,012 722,143
Figures from McCarthy, 1990, p. 10.

During the first century of the Ottoman rule, i.e., 1550, Bernard Lewis in a study of Ottoman registers of the early Ottoman Rule of Palestine reports a population of around 300,000:[83][84]

From the mass of detail in the registers, it is possible to extract something like a general picture of the economic life of the country in that period. Out of a total population of about 300,000 souls, between a fifth and a quarter lived in the six towns of Jerusalem, Gaza, Safed, Nablus, Ramle, and Hebron. The remainder consisted mainly of peasants (fellahin), living in villages of varying size, and engaged in agriculture. Their main food-crops were wheat and barley in that order, supplemented by leguminous pulses, olives, fruit, and vegetables. In and around most of the towns there was a considerable number of vineyards, orchards, and vegetable gardens.

According to Justin McCarthy, the population of Palestine throughout the 17th and 18th centuries (1601–1801) was likely not much smaller than when it in 1850 (~340,000), after which it started to increase.[85][page needed]

Late Ottoman period

Ottoman population in 1850
Qaza (region) Number of
towns and
Number of households
Muslims Christians Jews Total
1 Jerusalem
Jerusalem 1 1,025 738 630 2,393
Countryside 116 6,118 1,202
2 Hebron
Hebron 1 2,800
200 3,000
Countryside 52 2,820
3 Gaza
Gaza 1 2,690 65
Countryside 55 6,417
3 Jaffa
Jaffa 3 865 266
Ludd . 700 207
Ramla . 675 250
Countryside 61 3,439
4 Nablus
Nablus 1 1,356 108 14 1,478
Countryside 176 13,022 202
5 Jinin
Jinin 1 656 16
Countryside 39 2,120 17
6 Akka
Akka 1 547 210 6 763
Countryside 34 1,768 1,021
7 Haifa
Haifa 1 224 228 8 460
Countryside 41 2,011 161
8 Nazareth
Nazareth 1 275 1,073
Countryside 38 1,606 544
9 Tiberias
Tiberias 1 159 66 400 625
Countryside 7 507
10 Safad
Safad 1 1,295 3 1,197 2,495
Countryside 38 1,117 616
Figures from Ben-Arieh, in Scholch 1985, p. 388.

In the late nineteenth century, prior to the rise of Zionism, Jews are thought to have comprised between 2% and 5% of the population of Palestine, although the precise population is not known.[86]

Jewish immigration had begun following the 1839 Tanzimat reforms; between 1840 and 1880, the Jewish population of Palestine rose from 9,000 to 23,000.[87]

According to Alexander Scholch, Palestine in 1850 had about 350,000 inhabitants, 30% of whom lived in 13 towns; roughly 85% were Muslims, 11% were Christians and 4% Jews.[88]

The Ottoman census of 1878 indicated the following demographics for the three districts that best approximated what later became Mandatory Palestine; that is, the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem, the Nablus Sanjak, and the Acre Sanjak.[86] In addition, some scholars estimate approximately 5,000-10,000 additional foreign-born Jews at this time:[89]

Group Population Percentage
Muslim citizens 403,795 86–87%
Christian citizens 43,659 9%
Jewish citizens 15,011 3%
Jewish (foreign-born) Est. 5–10,000 1–2%
Total Up to 472,465 100.0%

According to Ottoman statistics studied by Justin McCarthy,[90] the population of Palestine in the early 19th century was 350,000, in 1860 it was 411,000 and in 1900 about 600,000 of which 94% were Arabs.

The estimated 24,000 Jews in Palestine in 1882 represented just 0.3% of the world's Jewish population.[91]

1914 Ottoman census listed the following population figures:[92]

Muslims Greek Orthodox Greek Catholics Jews Total
Beirut vilayet Acre Sanjak Akka 31,610 3,923 4,311 106 40,665
Hayfa 23,338 881 2,553 1099 28,802
Taberiye 8,328 150 244 3,060 13,054
Safed 22,356 324 2044 4,126 31,322
Nasıra 11,527 2371 1588 19,912
Total 97,159 9,503 10,740 8,351 133,755
Nablus Sanjak Nablus 74,500 1030 29 76,428
Benissaab 35,787 18 35,809
Cenin 40,589 755 41,657
Total 150,876 1803 29 153,854
Jerusalem Sanjak Kudüs-i Şerif 70,270 19,717 533 18,190 120,921
Yafa 62,758 5,312 553 2,105 72,206
Gazze 77,296 1006 243 78,597
Halil'ül-Rahman 55,720 721 56,444
Total 266,044 26,035 1,086 21,259 328,168
Total for the three sanjaks 514,079 36,741 11,826 29,639 615,777

Per McCarthy's estimate, in 1914 Palestine had a population of 657,000 Muslim Arabs, 81,000 Christian Arabs, and 59,000 Jews.[85] McCarthy estimates the non-Jewish population of Palestine at 452,789 in 1882, 737,389 in 1914, 725,507 in 1922, 880,746 in 1931 and 1,339,763 in 1946.[93]

Based on the work of Roberto Bachi, Sergio Della Pergola estimated that Palestine's population in 1914 was 689,000, comprising 525,000 Muslims, 94,000 Jews, and 70,000 Christians.[3]

According to another estimate, the Jewish population in 1914 was 85,000 and subsequently fell to 56,000 in 1916–1919[94] as a result of World War I. During the war, the Ottoman authorities deported many Jews with foreign citizenship, while others left after they were presented with a choice of taking Ottoman citizenship or leaving Palestine. By December 1915 about 14% of the Jewish population had left, mainly for Egypt, where they awaited the war's end so they could return to Palestine.[95]

According to Dr. Mutaz M. Qafisheh, the number of people who held Ottoman citizenship prior to the British Mandate in 1922 was just over 729,873, of which 7,143 were Jews.[96] Qafisheh calculated this using population and immigration statistics from the 1946 Survey of Palestine, as well as the fact that 37,997 people acquired provisional Palestinian naturalization certificates in September 1922 for the purpose of voting in the legislative election,[97] of which all but 100 were Jews.[98]

British Mandate era

Survey of Palestine, showing the increase in population between 1922 and 1944
Survey of Palestine, showing immigration between 1922 and 1944

Official reports

In 1920, the British Government's Interim Report on the Civil Administration of Palestine stated that there were hardly 700,000 people living in Palestine:

There are now in the whole of Palestine hardly 700,000 people, a population much less than that of the province of Gallilee alone in the time of Christ. Of these 235,000 live in the larger towns, 465,000 in the smaller towns and villages. Four-fifths of the whole population are Moslems. A small proportion of these are Bedouin Arabs; the remainder, although they speak Arabic and are termed Arabs, are largely of mixed race. Some 77,000 of the population are Christians, in large majority belonging to the Orthodox Church, and speaking Arabic. The minority are members of the Latin or of the Uniate Greek Catholic Church, or—a small number—are Protestants. The Jewish element of the population numbers 76,000. Almost all have entered Palestine during the last 40 years. Prior to 1850 there were in the country only a handful of Jews. In the following 30 years a few hundreds came to Palestine. Most of them were animated by religious motives; they came to pray and to die in the Holy Land, and to be buried in its soil. After the persecutions in Russia forty years ago, the movement of the Jews to Palestine assumed larger proportions. Jewish agricultural colonies were founded. They developed the culture of oranges and gave importance to the Jaffa orange trade. They cultivated the vine, and manufactured and exported wine. They drained swamps. They planted eucalyptus trees. They practised, with modern methods, all the processes of agriculture. There are at the present time 64 of these settlements, large and small, with a population of some 15,000.[99]

By 1948, the population had risen to 1,900,000, of whom 68% were Arabs, and 32% were Jews (UNSCOP report, including Bedouin).

Population of Palestine, 1922–1945
Year Muslims Christians Jews Total
1922 589,177 73,024 83,790 757,182
1931 759,717 91,398 174,610 1,035,821
1945 1,061,270 135,550 553,600 1,764,520

Report and general abstract of the Jewish agriculture was taken by the Palestine Zionist Executive in April 1927.

Object of the Census:

(p 85) Demography: to enumerate all Jewish inhabitants living in the agricultural and semi-agricultural communities.

(p 86) Number of Settlements: 130 places have been enumerated. If we consider the large settlements and the adjacent territories as one geographical unit, then we may group these places into 101 agricultural settlements, 3 semi-agricultural places (Affule, Shekhunath Borukhov and Neve Yaaqov) and 12 farms scattered throughout the country. In addition, there were a few places which, owing to technical difficulties, were not enumerated in the month of April. (Peqiin, Meiron, Mizpa and Zikhron David, numbering in the aggregate 100 persons).

Of these agricultural settlements, 32 are located in Judea, 12 in the Plain of Sharon, 32 are located in the Plain of Jesreel, 16 in Lower Galilee, and 9 in Upper Galilee. Most of them have a very small population – about one half being inhabited by less than 100 persons each. In 42 settlements there are from 100 to 500 persons, and in only five does the population exceed 1.000. viz.

Settlements Persons
Pethah Tiqva 6,631
Rishon le-Ziyon 2,143
Rehovoth 1,689
Hadera 1,378
Zihron Yaaqov 1,260

(p 86) Number of Inhabitants: The aggregate population living in the agricultural and semi-agricultural places were 30.500.

Male Female
1 day – 10 years 3,298 3,188
11 years – 20 years 3,059 2,597
21 years – 30 years 5,743 4,100
31 years – 40 years 1,821 1,411
41 years – 50 years 1,011 0,922
Over 50 years and unknown 1,763 1,587
Total 16,695 13,805
Length of Residence in Palestine

(p 87 & p 98) The pre-war population accounts for 9,473 persons, which is slightly less than one-third of the present population, whereas the rest are post-war immigrants. Some 10.000 persons settled since 1924, since the so-called middle-class immigration.

Length of residence in Years Men Women Children Total %
1 1504 1118 1746 4368 14.2
2 2406 2020 1575 6001 19.6
3 1311 913 1133 3357 11.5
4 695 556 720 1971 6.4
5 682 454 513 1649 5.4
6 856 403 390 1649 5.4
7 682 277 379 1358 4.3
8 139 45 261 445 1.5
9 39 10 200 249 0.8
10–13 237 218 893 1348 4.4
14–20 1882 1630 216 3728 12.1
21–29 864 800 - 1664 5.4
Over 30 836 930 - 1766 5.8
Unspecified 336 281 350 967 3.2
Total 12,469 9,655 8,376 30,500 100%


Late Arab and Muslim immigration to Palestine

The "Survey of Palestine" of the British Government in Palestine, 1946, commenting on misconceptions around illegal Arab immigration

Ottoman period, 1800–1918

At the end of the 18th century, there was a bi-directional movement between Egypt and Palestine. Between 1829 and 1841, thousands of Egyptian fellahin (peasants) arrived in Palestine fleeing Muhammad Ali Pasha's conscription, which he reasoned as the casus belli to invade Palestine in October 1831, ostensibly to repatriate the Egyptian fugitives.[101][102][103] Egyptian forced labourers, mostly from the Nile Delta, were brought in by Muhammad Ali and settled in sakināt (neighborhoods) along the coast for agriculture, which set off bad blood with the indigenous fellahin, who resented Muhammad Ali's plans and interference, prompting the wide-scale Peasants' revolt in Palestine in 1834.[101][104][105] After Egyptian defeat and retreat in 1841, many laborers and deserters stayed in Palestine.[102] Most of these settled and were quickly assimilated in the cities of Jaffa and Gaza, the Coastal plains and Wadi Ara.[102] Estimates of Egyptian migrants during this period generally place them at 15,000–30,000.[102] At the time, the sedentary population of Palestine fluctuated around 350,000.[102] Palestine experienced a few waves of immigration of Muslims from the lands lost by the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Algerians, Circassians and Bosnians were mostly settled on vacant land and unlike the Egyptians they did not alter the geography of settlement significantly.[102]: 73 

The Naqab desert further south preserved its Bedouin population, who had reportedly lived in the area since the 7th century. Many Bedouin tribes moved from the Hejaz and Transjordan in the 14th and 15th centuries. According to the 1922 census of Palestine, "The Ottoman authorities in 1914 placed the tribal population of Beersheba at 55,000, and since that date there has been a migration of tribes from the Hejaz and Southern Transjordan into the Beersheba area mainly as a result of succession of adequate rainfalls and of pressure exerted by other tribes east of the River Jordan." For 1922, the census gives a figure of 74,910 including 72,998 in the tribal areas.[106]

Demographer Uziel Schmelz, in his analysis of Ottoman registration data for 1905 populations of Jerusalem and Hebron kazas, found that most Ottoman citizens living in these areas, comprising about one quarter of the population of Palestine, were living at the place where they were born. Specifically, of Muslims, 93.1% were born in their current locality of residence, 5.2% were born elsewhere in Palestine, and 1.6% were born outside Palestine. Of Christians, 93.4% were born in their current locality, 3.0% were born elsewhere in Palestine, and 3.6% were born outside Palestine. Of Jews (excluding the large fraction who were not Ottoman citizens), 59.0% were born in their current locality, 1.9% were born elsewhere in Palestine, and 39.0% were born outside Palestine.[107]

British Mandate period, 1919–1948

Mandatory Palestine population by birthplace from the 1931 census of Palestine. According to the census 98% of Palestinian Muslims were born in Palestine, compared to 80% of Christians and 42% of Jews.

According to Roberto Bachi, head of the Israeli Institute of Statistics from 1949 onwards, between 1922 and 1945 there was a net Arab migration into Palestine of between 40,000 and 42,000, excluding 9,700 people who were incorporated after territorial adjustments were made to the borders in the 1920s. Based on these figures, and including those netted by the border alterations, Joseph Melzer calculates an upper boundary of 8.5% for Arab growth in the two decades, and interprets it to mean the local Palestinian community's growth was generated primarily by natural increase in birth rates, for both Muslims and Christians.[108]

Population of Palestine, 1922–1945
Year Muslims Christians Jews Total
1922 589,177 73,024 83,790 757,182
1931 759,717 174,610 91,398 1,035,821
1945 1,061,270 135,550 553,600 1,764,520

According to a Jewish Agency survey, 77% of Palestinian population growth in Palestine between 1914 and 1938, during which the Palestinian population doubled, was due to natural increase, while 23% was due to immigration. Arab immigration was primarily from Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, and Egypt (all countries that bordered Palestine).[109]

The overall assessment of several British reports was that the increase in the Arab population was primarily due to natural increase.[110][111] These included the Hope Simpson Enquiry (1930),[112] the Passfield White Paper (1930),[113] the Peel Commission report (1937),[114] and the Survey of Palestine (1945).[115] However, the Hope Simpson Enquiry did note that there was significant illegal immigration from the surrounding Arab territories,[112] while the Peel Commission and Survey of Palestine claimed that immigration played only a minor role in the growth of the Arab population. The 1931 census of Palestine considered the question of illegal immigration since the previous census in 1922.[116] It estimated that unrecorded immigration during that period may have amounted to 9,000 Jews and 4,000 Arabs.[116] It also gave the proportion of persons living in Palestine in 1931 who were born outside Palestine: Muslims, 2%; Christians, 20%; Jews, 58%.[116] The statistical information for Arab immigration (and expulsions when the clandestine migrants were caught), with a contrast to the figures for Jewish immigration over the same period of 1936–1939, is given by Henry Laurens in the following terms[117]

Palestinian immigration, 1936–1939
Jews Arabs
69,716 2,267
Expulsions of illegals, 1937–1938
Jews Arabs (et al.).
125 1,704

According to Mark Tessler, at least some of the Arab population growth was the result of immigration, mostly from the Sinai, Lebanon, Syria, and Transjordan, stimulated by the relatively favorable economic conditions in Palestine, but he noted differing opinions among scholars over how substantial it was. He cited one study as putting the Arab population growth attributable to immigration between 1922 and 1931 at 7%, meaning that 4% of the Arab population in 1931 was foreign-born, while noting another estimate[118] put the growth in the Arab population attributable to immigration at 38.7%, which would mean that 11.8% of the Arab population in 1931 was foreign-born. Tessler wrote that "Israeli as well as Palestinian scholars have disputed this assertion, however, concluding that it is at best a theory and in all probability a myth."[119]

In a 1974 study, demographer Roberto Bachi estimated that about 900 Muslims per year were detected as illegal immigrants but not deported.[120] He noted the impossibility of estimating illegal immigration that was undetected, or the fraction of those persons who eventually departed.[120] He did note that there was an unexplained increase in the Muslim population between 1922 and 1931, and he did suggest, though qualifying it as a "mere guess", that this was due to a combination of unrecorded immigration (using the 1931 census report estimate) and undercounting in the 1922 census.[120]

While noting the uncertainty of earlier data, Bachi also observed that the Muslim population growth in the 19th century appeared to be high by world standards:

"[B]etween 1800 and 1914, the Muslim population had a yearly average increase of an order of magnitude of roughly 6–7 per thousand. This can be compared to the very crude estimate of about 4 per thousand for the "less developed countries" of the world (in Asia, Africa, and Latin America) between 1800 and 1910. It is possible that some part of the growth of the Muslim population was due to immigration. However, it seems likely that the dominant determinant of this modest growth was the beginning of some natural increase."[121]

According to Justin McCarthy, "... evidence for Muslim immigration into Palestine is minimal. Because no Ottoman records of that immigration have yet been discovered, one is thrown back on demographic analysis to evaluate Muslim migration."[122] McCarthy argues that there is no significant Arab immigration into mandatory Palestine:

From analyses of rates of increase of the Muslim population of the three Palestinian sanjaks, one can say with certainty that Muslim immigration after the 1870s was small. Had there been a large group of Muslim immigrants their numbers would have caused an unusual increase in the population and this would have appeared in the calculated rate of increase from one registration list to another... Such an increase would have been easily noticed; it was not there.[123]

The argument that Arab immigration somehow made up a large part of the Palestinian Arab population is thus statistically untenable. The vast majority of the Palestinian Arabs resident in 1947 were the sons and daughters of Arabs who were living in Palestine before modern Jewish immigration began. There is no reason to believe that they were not the sons and daughters of Arabs who had been in Palestine for many centuries.[124]

McCarthy also concludes that there was no significant internal migration to Jewish areas attributable to better economic conditions:

Some areas of Palestine did experience greater population growth than others, but the explanation for this is simple. Radical economic change was occurring all over the Mediterranean Basin at the time. Improved transportation, greater mercantile activity, and greater industry had increased the chances for employment in cities, especially coastal cities... Differential population increase was occurring all over the Eastern Mediterranean, not just in Palestine... The increase in Muslim population had little or nothing to do with Jewish immigration. In fact the province that experienced the greatest Jewish population growth (by .035 annually), Jerusalem Sanjak, was the province with the lowest rate of growth of Muslim population (.009).[125]

Fred M. Gottheil has questioned McCarthy's estimates of immigration. Gottheil says that McCarthy didn't give proper weight to the importance of economic incentives at the time, and that McCarthy cites Roberto Bachi's estimates as conclusive numbers, rather than lower bounds based on detected illegal immigration.[118][126]

Gad Gilbar has also concluded that the prosperity of Palestine in the 45–50 years before World War I was a result of the modernization and growth of the economy owing to its integration with the world economy and especially with the economies of Europe. Although the reasons for growth were exogenous to Palestine the bearers were not waves of Jewish immigration, foreign intervention nor Ottoman reforms but "primarily local Arab Muslims and Christians."[127] However, Gilbar did attribute the rapid growth of Jaffa and Haifa in the final three decades of Ottoman rule in part to migration, writing that "both attracted population from the rural and urban surroundings and immigrants from outside Palestine."[128]

Yehoshua Porath believes that the notion of "large-scale immigration of Arabs from the neighboring countries" is a myth "proposed by Zionist writers". He writes:

As all the research by historian Fares Abdul Rahim and geographers of modern Palestine shows, the Arab population began to grow again in the middle of the nineteenth century. That growth resulted from a new factor: the demographic revolution. Until the 1850s there was no "natural" increase of the population, but this began to change when modern medical treatment was introduced and modern hospitals were established, both by the Ottoman authorities and by the foreign Christian missionaries. The number of births remained steady but infant mortality decreased. This was the main reason for Arab population growth. ... No one would doubt that some migrant workers came to Palestine from Syria and Trans-Jordan and remained there. But one has to add to this that there were migrations in the opposite direction as well. For example, a tradition developed in Hebron to go to study and work in Cairo, with the result that a permanent community of Hebronites had been living in Cairo since the fifteenth century. Trans-Jordan exported unskilled casual labor to Palestine; but before 1948 its civil service attracted a good many educated Palestinian Arabs who did not find work in Palestine itself. Demographically speaking, however, neither movement of population was significant in comparison to the decisive factor of natural increase.[129]

Modern era

As of 2014, Israeli and Palestinian statistics for the overall numbers of Jews and Arabs in the area west of the Jordan, inclusive of Israel and the Palestinian territories, are similar and suggest a rough parity in the two populations. Palestinian statistics estimate 6.1 million Palestinians for that area, while Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics estimates 6.2 million Jews living in sovereign Israel. Gaza is estimated by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to have 1.7 million, and the West Bank 2.8 million Palestinians, while Israel proper has 1.7 million Arab citizens.[130] According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, as of May 2006, of Israel's 7 million people, 77% were Jews, 18.5% Arabs, and 4.3% "others".[131] Among Jews, 68% were Sabras (Israeli-born), mostly second- or third-generation Israelis, and the rest are olim – 22% from Europe and the Americas, and 10% from Asia and Africa, including the Arab countries.[132]

According to these Israeli and Palestinian estimates, the population in Israel and the Palestinian territories stands at from 6.1 to 6.2 million Palestinians and 6.1 million Jews.[130][failed verification] According to Sergio DellaPergola, if foreign workers and non-Jewish Russian immigrants in Israel are subtracted, Jews are already a minority in the land between the river and the sea.[130] DellaPergola calculates that Palestinians as of January 2014 number 5.7 million as opposed to a "core Jewish population" of 6.1 million.[130]

The Palestinian statistics are contested by some right-wing Israeli think-tanks and non-demographers such as Yoram Ettinger, who claim they overestimate Palestinian numbers by double-counting and counting Palestinians who live abroad. The double-counting argument is dismissed by both Arnon Soffer, Ian Lustick[133] and DellaPergola, the latter dismissing Ettinger's calculations as 'delusional' or manipulated for ignoring the birth-rate differentials between the two populations (3 children per Jewish mother vs 3.4 for Palestinians generally, and 4.1 in the Gaza Strip). DellaPergola allows, however, for an inflation in the Palestinian statistics due to the counting of Palestinians who are abroad, a discrepancy of some 380,000 individuals.[130]

Demographics of the State of Israel

Ethnic makeup of the State of Israel (2019) [134]
Ethnic group percent
Jews and others

The latest Israeli census was conducted by Israel Central Bureau of Statistics in 2019. Israeli census excludes the Gaza Strip. It also excludes all West Bank Palestinian localities, including those in Area C, while it includes the annexed East Jerusalem. It also includes all Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The census also includes the occupied Syrian territory of Golan Heights.

As per this census, the total population in 2019 was 9,140,473.[134] Israeli population consists of 7,221,442 "Jews and others", and 1,919,031 Arabs, almost all of which Palestinians, with 26,261 in Golan Subdistrict, being Syrian, mostly Druze, and a small number Alawite. The population includes the Druze community of Israel (i.e. not Syrian Druze) as well, who generally self-identify as Israeli, and are the only Arab-speaking community that has mandatory military service in the IDF.

Demographics of the State of Palestine

The latest Palestinian Census was conducted by Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in 2017.[135] The Palestinian census covers the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The Palestinian census does not cover Israeli settlements in the West Bank including those in East Jerusalem. The census does not provide any ethnic or religious distinction. However, it is reasonable to assume that almost everyone counted is Palestinian Arab.

As per this census, the total population of the Palestinian territories was 4,780,978.[135] The West Bank had a population of 2,881,687, whereas the Gaza Strip had a population of 1,899,291.

Combined demographics

Ethnic makeup of historic Palestine (2019) [134][135]
(Including occupied Syrian Golan)
Ethnic group percent
Jews and others
Arabs (Palestinian and Syrians)

The combined population of the territory of Historic Palestine in 2019, including the occupied Golan Heights, was 14,121,893. This is based upon an estimation of a population of 13,868,091 in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, assuming a growth rate of 2.5% in the Palestinian territories, as estimated by the World Bank.[136] Since the Palestinian Arab population of East Jerusalem was counted in both censuses, the more recent and more accurate number from Israel Central Bureau of Statistics was chosen. (East Jerusalem is under Israeli jurisdiction and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics doesn't have access to the territory, and thus its count would be less reliable.)

See also


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  98. ^ The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, [2] and [3], stated: "Jerusalem, (J. T. A.) it is officially stated" that 19,293 naturalization certificates have been granted to Jews who had applied for Palestine Citizenship. As the naturalization of the husband applies also to the wife, the number of persons actually naturalized is 37,997. Only 100 members of other nationalities applied for naturalization. Very few British or American Jews renounced their citizenship in favor of Palestine, a fact which is causing unfavorable comment among Palestinian Jews"
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