Demographic history of Palestine
The Demographic history of Palestine refers to the study of the historical population of the region of Palestine, defined as the modern State of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories, or the territory defined by the borders of the 1923-48 Mandatory Palestine.
- 1 Ancient period demographics
- 2 Classical period demographics
- 3 Middle Ages demographics
- 4 Ottoman period demographics
- 5 British mandate demographics
- 6 Modern period demographics
- 7 See also
- 8 Sources
- 9 References
Ancient period demographics
Figures vary considerably as to the demographics of Palestine in the Christian era. Population growth has been estimated, from 1,000 BCE to 750 BCE to average 0.4 per annum. After the Bar Kochba revolt the make-up of the population of Palestine is debated due to data being sparse in the historical record. Modern estimates vary: Applebaum argues that in Herod's 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 Emperor Claudius. According to Israeli archeologist Magen Broshi argues that West of the Jordan the pop0ulation did not exceed 1 million:
"... 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"
Broschi's calculations are based on the grain-producing capacity of Palestine and its role in the indigenous diet, assuming an average annual pro capita consumption of 200 kg.(with a maximum of 250 kgs., which would work out to the limit of a sustainable population of 1,250,000 people. The proportion of Jews to gentiles is unknown. Similarly, a study by Yigal Shiloh of The Hebrew University suggests that the population of Palestine in the Iron Age could have never exceeded a million. He writes: "... the population of the country in the Roman-Byzantine period greatly exceeded that in the Iron Age...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."
After the Babylonian conquest in 597 BC the Samaritans emerged as a people in Palestine, and the Phoenicians expanded along the coastal plain. With the successive waves of return of the Israelites from exile in the mid-5th century BC, by the time of Ezra (~458 BC) Palestine consisted of the returnees, the people of Samaria and other Jews who had remained behind, the related Samaritans, and "the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians and the Amorites. For they have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons, so that the holy seed have mingled". From that point on there is no further mention in the Bible of living Canaanites. At the start of the Hellenic period, Jews therefore dominated the population of Palestine, with an ancestry prime of which was Canaanite, plus lesser contributions of Aegean (Philistines), Egyptian, and Syrian and Mesopotamian (Amorites).
Classical period demographics
The Persians were conquered by Alexander the Great in 322 BC. In 160 BC the continuing Hellenisation of Palestine led to the Maccabean revolt. The composition of the population, from the end of the Hasmonaean dynasty had a large preponderance of Jewish elements compared to strictly localized Greek (pagan) centres, together with a dominant Samaritan enclave in Samaria. 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 Jewish war with Rome, and the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the second Temple. The total population of Pharisees, the forerunners of modern Rabbinic Judaism, was around 6,000 ("exakischilioi"), according to Josephus. Local population displacements occurred with the expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem – "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:
"No date or origin can be assigned to the numerous settlements eventually known in the west, and some may have been founded as a result of the dispersal of Palestinian Jews after the revolts of AD 66–70 and 132-5, but it is reasonable to conjecture that many, such as the settlement in Puteoli attested in 4 BC, went back to the late republic or early empire and originated in voluntary emigration and the lure of trade and commerce."
Three events caused the Jewish population dominance to change after AD 70 (in the Late Roman period). The first was the rise of Christianity. The second involved the Jewish Diasporas resulting from a series of Jewish rebellions against the Roman occupation, starting in AD 66 which resulted in the destruction of the second Temple and of Jerusalem in AD 70 to the subsequent expulsion of the Jews from Jerusalem, and followed by the rebellion against Hadrian in AD 132 – the Bar Kokhba revolt – "The Judaean Jewish community never recovered from the Bar Kochba war. In its wake, Jews no longer formed the majority in Palestine, and the Jewish center moved to the Galilee." The third event was the 'ascension' of Constantine the Great in 312 and Christianity becoming the official state religion of Rome in 391. 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". Reliable data on the population of Palestine in the pre-Muslim period, both in absolute terms and for the relative sizes of each community, do not exist. The demographics during that period are therefore based on minimal data. 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 Palestina did not lose its Jewish component. Goldblatt 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'. Non-Christian conversions from Judaism after the Bar Kochba revolt were not given much attention.
"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."
The highest population of the 3rd to 7th centuries probably occurred in the Byzantine period. Most scholars consider that the proportion of Jews decreased during these centuries, a loss of dominance not related to any specific diaspora and at dates not agreed to by historians. For instance, 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. On the other hand, by counting churches and synagogues, Tsafrir estimated the Jewish fraction at 25% in the Byzantine period. Stemberger, however, considers that Jews were the largest population group at the beginning of the 4th century, closely followed by the pagans. In contrast to Avi-Yonah, Schiffman estimated that Christians only became the majority of the country's population at the beginning of the 5th century, confirmed by DellaPergola who estimates that by the 5th century Christians were in the majority and Jews were a minority.
Middle Ages demographics
The Christian-dominated Palestinian society of the late-Byzantine era, having been formed by conversions plus various migrations, was to undergo yet another upheaval. In 629 Palestine was invaded by Arabs from the Hejaz. By 635 AD, Palestine, Jordan and Southern Syria, with the exception of Jerusalem and Caesarea, were in Muslim hands. Jerusalem capitulated in 636.
Levy-Rubin advocated that conversion was not commonplace during the early-period of the Islamic empire (the Umayyad Caliphate [661 – 750] and the Abbasid Caliphate [750 – 1258]) – "It has been presumed until now that [the presence of Muslims in Samaria] was solely a result of immigration of Arab Muslims into the area. … a small part of this Muslim population originated in Samarian population which converted to Islam during the early Muslim period mainly as a result of difficult economic conditions for non-Muslims. As of now, this is the only evidence we have of mass conversion to Islam in Palestine during the early Muslim period.". Arabization of the Levant involved the realm's new subjects adopting the Arabic language and Islam.
"Very few Arabs were productive settlers of the land, an activity they despised; a few were great landlords who used native tenants to cultivate their estates; but generally they were nomadic tribesmen, soldiers and officials all of whom lived off the jizya (or poll tax) and the kharaj (or land tax) paid by the occupied peoples in return for the protection of their lives and property and for the right to practise their own religion. Because the jizya and the kharaj could be imposed only on non-Muslims, the Arabs had little interest in making converts to Islam, a contributory reason why Syria, Palestine and Egypt would remain overwhelmingly Christian for centuries to come."
According to Atimal and Ellenblum the Islamization of Palestine had its beginnings in the early Islamic period (ca. 640–1099 C.E.), but had halted and apparently even been reversed during the time of Frankish rule (Kingdom of Jerusalem). In the aftermath of the Muslim reconquest, which began in 1187, and the advent of Ayyubid rule (1187–1260) in parts of Palestine and then the Mamluk rule, it appears that the process of religious conversion was accelerated. With the beginning of the Ottoman period in 1516, it is commonly assumed, and may well be that the Muslim majority in the country was more-or-less like that of the mid-19th century.
Ottoman period demographics
|First half 1st century CE||Majority||–||–||~2,500|
|5th century||Minority||Majority||–||>1st C|
|End 12th century||Minority||Minority||Majority||>225|
|14th century before Black Death||Minority||Minority||Majority||225|
|14th century after Black Death||Minority||Minority||Majority||150|
|Figures in thousands.|
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, 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.
In his paper 'Demography in Israel/Palestine: Trends, Prospects and Policy Implications' Sergio DellaPergola, drawing on the work of Bachi (1975), provides rough estimates of the population of Palestine west of the River Jordan by religion groups from the 1st century onwards summarised in the table on the right.
|Figures from Ben-Arieh, in Scholch 1985, p. 388.|
According to Ottoman statistics studied by Justin McCarthy, 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. In 1914 Palestine had a population of 657,000 Muslim Arabs, 81,000 Christian Arabs, and 59,000 Jews. 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.
Travelers' impressions of 19th-century Palestine
In Chapters 46, 39, 52 and 56 of his Innocents Abroad, American author Mark Twain wrote of his visit to Palestine in 1867: "Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Palestine is desolate and unlovely – Palestine is no more of this workday world. It is sacred to poetry and tradition, it is dreamland."(Chapter 56) "There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country". (Chapter 52) "A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action. We reached Tabor safely. We never saw a human being on the whole route". (Chapter 49) "There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent – not for thirty miles in either direction. ...One may ride ten miles (16 km) hereabouts and not see ten human beings." ...these unpeopled deserts, these rusty mounds of barrenness..."(Chapter 46)
These descriptions of the often quoted non-arable areas few people would inhabit are as Twain says, "by contrast" to occasional scenes of arable land and productive agriculture: "The narrow canon in which Nablous, or Shechem, is situated, is under high cultivation, and the soil is exceedingly black and fertile. It is well watered, and its affluent vegetation gains effect by contrast with the barren hills that tower on either side"..."Sometimes, in the glens, we came upon luxuriant orchards of figs, apricots, pomegranates, and such things, but oftener the scenery was rugged, mountainous, verdureless and forbidding"..."We came finally to the noble grove of orange-trees in which the Oriental city of Jaffa lies buried"..."Small shreds and patches of it must be very beautiful in the full flush of spring, however, and all the more beautiful by contrast with the far-reaching desolation that surrounds them on every side.
Bayard Taylor who wrote of the Jezreel Valley in 1852 ".. one of the richest districts in the world"..."The soil is a dark-brown loam, and, without manure, produces annually superb crops of wheat and barley." Laurence Oliphant wrote in 1887, again of the Valley of Jezreel "..a huge green lake of waving wheat, with its village-crowned mounds rising from it like islands ... it presents one of the most striking pictures of luxuriant fertility which it is possible to conceive"
Kathleen Christison, an American author who spent 16 years as an analyst for the CIA, was critical of attempts to use Twain's humorous writing as a literal description of Palestine at that time. She writes that "Twain's descriptions are high in Israeli government press handouts that present a case for Israel's redemption of a land that had previously been empty and barren. His gross characterizations of the land and the people in the time before mass Jewish immigration are also often used by US propagandists for Israel." For example she noted that Twain described the Samaritans of Nablus at length without mentioning the much larger Arab population at all. The Arab population of Nablus at the time was about 20,000.
During the 19th century, many residents and visitors attempted to estimate the population without recourse to official data, and came up with a large number of different values. Estimates that are reasonably reliable are only available for the final third of the century, from which period Ottoman population and taxation registers have been preserved.
After a visit to Palestine in 1891, Ahad Ha'am wrote:
From abroad, we are accustomed to believe that Eretz Israel is presently almost totally desolate, an uncultivated desert, and that anyone wishing to buy land there can come and buy all he wants. But in truth it is not so. In the entire land, it is hard to find tillable land that is not already tilled; only sandy fields or stony hills, suitable at best for planting trees or vines and, even that after considerable work and expense in clearing and preparing them- only these remain unworked. ... Many of our people who came to buy land have been in Eretz Israel for months, and have toured its length and width, without finding what they seek.
In 1852 the American writer Bayard Taylor traveled across the Jezreel Valley, which he described in his 1854 book The Lands of the Saracen; or, Pictures of Palestine, Asia Minor, Sicily and Spain as: "one of the richest districts in the world.", while Lawrence Oliphant, who visited Palestine in 1887, wrote that Palestine's Valley of Esdraelon was "a huge green lake of waving wheat, with its village-crowned mounds rising from it like islands; and it presents one of the most striking pictures of luxuriant fertility which it is possible to conceive."
According to Paul Masson, a French economic historian, "wheat shipments from the Palestinian port of Acre had helped to save southern France from famine on numerous occasions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries."
In 1856 H.B. Tristram said of Palestine "A few years ago the whole Ghor (Jordan Valley) was in the hands of the fellaheen, and much of it cultivated for corn. Now the whole of it is in the hands of the Bedouin, who eschew all agriculture…The same thing is now going on over the plain of Sharon where….land is going out of cultivation and whole villages rapidly disappeared….Since the year 1838, no less than twenty villages there have thus erased from the map, and the stationary population extirpated."
Norman Finkelstein said in an interview with Adam Horowitz in Mondoweiss about the travel accounts: "... as you can imagine you are coming from London and you are going to Palestine, Palestine looks empty. That's not surprising. You've been to the occupied territories and even now if you are traveling on roads to the West Bank, most of it looks empty and this is now, the population in the West bank is about two million. Back then the population in the whole of Palestine — meaning the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and Jordan, the whole of Palestine — the population was about 300,000. So of course it's going to look empty".
British mandate demographics
In 1920, the League of Nations' 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.
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 Recidence 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 12469 9655 8376 30500 100 %
The question of late Arab immigration to Palestine
Whether there was significant Arab immigration into Palestine after the beginning of Jewish settlement there in the late 19th century has become a matter of some controversy. It is known that the Arab population of Palestine doubled during the British Mandate era, from 670,000 in 1922 to over 1.2 million in 1948, and there has been considerable debate over the subject on how much of this growth was due to natural increase, as opposed to immigration. Estimates on the scope of Arab immigration to Palestine during this period vary.
Immigration from Egypt happened mostly during 1830s and 1840s. Egyptians settled mainly in Jaffa, the Coastal plain, Samaria and in Wadi Ara. In the southern plain there were 19 villages with Egyptian population, while in Jaffa there were some 500 Egyptian families with a population of over 2,000 people. The largest rural concentration of Egyptian immigrants was in the Sharon region. According to David Grossman, the overall estimates of the scope of Egyptian immigration to Palestine ranges between 23,000 and 30,000.
The number of Bedouins who started settling the Negev region from the 7th century considerably increased during Ottoman rule as a result of immigration of both Bedouin tribes from south and east and peasant farmers (fellahins) from Egypt. The Egyptian fellahins settled mostly in the region around the Gaza strip and received protection from Bedouins, in return for goods. Bedouins brought African slaves (abid) from Sudan who worked for them. To reduce frictions and to stabilize the boundaries between Bedouin tribes, the Ottomans established an administrative center in Beersheba around 1900, as the first planned settlement in Negev since the Nabatean and Byzantine times.
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.
According to Roberto Bachi, head of the Israeli Institute of Statistics from 1949 onwards, between 1922-1945 there was a net Arab migration into Palestine of between 40,000-42,000, excluding 9,700 people who were incorporated after territorial adjustments were made to the borders in the 1920s. Basing himself 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.
Martin Gilbert estimated that 50,000 Arabs immigrated to Mandatory Palestine from neighboring lands between 1919 and 1939 "attracted by the improving agricultural conditions and growing job opportunities, most of them created by the Jews". According to Itzhak Galnoor, although most of the local Palestinian community's growth was Arab population increase was the result of natural increase, Arab immigration to Palestine was significant. Based on his estimates, approximately 100,000 Arabs immigrated to Palestine between 1922 and 1948.
The overall assessment of several British reports was that the increase in the Arab population was primarily due to natural increase. These included the Hope Simpson Enquiry (1930), the Passfield White Paper (1930), the Peel Commission report (1937), and the Survey of Palestine (1945). However, the Hope Simpson Enquiry did note that there was significant illegal immigration from the surrounding Arab territories, 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. It estimated that unrecorded immigration during that period may have amounted to 9,000 Jews and 4,000 Arabs. It also gave the proportion of persons living in Palestine in 1931 who were born outside Palestine: Muslims, 2%; Christians, 20%; Jews, 58%.
In a 1974 study, Roberto Bachi estimated that about 900 Muslims per year were detected as illegal immigrants but not deported. He noted the impossibility of estimating illegal immigration that was undetected, or the fraction of those persons who eventually departed. He suggested, though qualifying it as a "mere guess", that the unexplained increase in the Muslim population between 1922 and 1931 was due to a combination of unrecorded immigration (using the 1931 census report estimate) and undercounting in the 1922 census.
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."
McCarthy explains, "... 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." 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.
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.
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).
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."
It has been suggested that the British turned a blind eye to large-scale Arab illegal immigration, and instead disproportionately focused on Jewish illegal immigration. In particular, Freddy Liebreich claimed that significant undocumented Arab immigration, much of it from the Hauran region of Syria, did take place during the Mandate era, and that the British authorities largely ignored it. According to Liebreich: "Jewish illegal immigration was minutely detailed and meticulously recorded but all references to Arab illegal immigration were, perhaps deliberately, obscured." He claimed that one major example took place in 1934, when, according to him, approximately 35,000 Arabs illegally immigrated to Palestine from the Hauran, basing this estimate on a claim made by the Governor of the Hauran at the time, who estimated that 30,000-36,000 people from the Hauran had left to settle in Palestine in recent months. By contrast, the British estimated the number of illegal immigrants to Palestine in 1934, both Arab and non-Arab, at 3,000. Liebreich also wrote that many British documents from the beginning of the Mandate era to the 1940s contain references to Syrians from the Hauran being freely admitted into Palestine without a passport or visa, and noted that illegal immigration from the Hauran was mentioned in Parliament a year before the end of British rule in Palestine.
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.
Miss Peters's central thesis is that a substantial immigration of Arabs to Palestine took place during the first half of the twentieth century. She supports this argument with an array of demographic statistics and contemporary accounts, the bulk of which have not been questioned by any reviewer, including Porath.
Porath replied with an array of demographic data to support his position. He also wrote that Peters's demographic statistics were inexplicable:
...nowhere in her main text or in the methodological appendices (V and VI) did Mrs. Peters bother to explain to her readers how she managed to break down the Ottoman or Cuinet's figures into smaller units than subdistricts. As far as I know no figures for the units smaller than subdistricts (Nahia; the parallel of the French commune), covering the area of Ottoman Palestine, were ever published. Therefore I can't avoid the conclusion that Mrs. Peters's figures were, at best, based on guesswork and an extremely tendentious guesswork at that.
Modern period demographics
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 6.08 million Palestinians for that area, while Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics estimates 6,218,000 Jews living in sovereign Israel. Gaza is estimated by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to have 1.7 million, and the West Bank 2.754 million Palestinians, while Israel proper has 1,719,000 Arab citizens. 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". 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.
According to these Israeli and Palestinian estimates, the population in Israel and the Palestinian territories stands at from 6.08 - to 6.2 million Palestinians and 6.10 million Jews. According to Sergio DellaPergola, if one subtracts foreign workers and non-Jewish Russian immigrants, Palestinians constitute a majority in the territory between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean. DellaPergola calculates that Palestinians as of January 2014 number 5,698,500 as opposed to a “core Jewish population” of 6,103,200.
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 and DellaPergola, the latter dismissing Ettinger's calculations as 'delusional' 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 a slight inflation in the Palestinian statistics due to the counting of Palestinians who are abroad, a 'relatively negligible' discrepancy of some 380,000 individuals.
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- History of the Jewish community in Palestine
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