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Battle of numbers: What Demographic time bomb?

Demography is a central issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Conventional wisdom holds that Israel faces a demographic time bomb because the Palestinian Authority's reported 3.8 million population, combined with Israel's 1.3 million Arabs, already almost equals the Jewish population (5.4 million). Some Israeli demographers contend that given high Arab birthrates, Jews will quickly become a minority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.

But this doomsday scenario is wrong.

Remarkably, no one had bothered to verify the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) numbers until we formed a team of American and Israeli researchers to exhaustively study Palestinian, Israeli and third-party sources. They revealed that the 2004 Arab population in the Territories is closer to 2.4 million than to the PCBS claim of 3.8 million, a 60% overstatement.

This million-and-a-half person gap arose because the PCBS figures are based on predictions, not on actual, real-time measurements. The PCBS also inflated its 1997 census, the base figure for its predictions, and then applied high birth and unrealistically high immigration assumptions to this inflated base, compounding the same errors year after year. Our audit found that the PCBS projections were not met for even one year between 1997 and 2004.

On top of the PCBS error, some Israeli demographers again applied the high growth rates, and continued to build further errors, exponentially, into the future.

Together these groups have built a demographic house of cards.

Until those projecting the future bother to correct the present, their discussions about the future are meaningless.

What our study found. We calculated a 2004 Arab population of 1.35 million in the West Bank and 1.07 million in Gaza, a total of 2.42 million, by correcting the following errors:

Fewer births: Since 1997, the PA Ministry of Health (MOH) recorded fewer births than the PCBS predicted. These detailed records (including hospital and home births) were corroborated by PA Ministry of Education records for children entering school. Reduction: 238,000.

Retrospective alterations of recorded birth data: The PA MOH retroactively restated births to reflect the overseas residents included in the 1997 PA Census. After the census, they included overseas births of nonresidents. We included only resident births. Reduction: 81,000.

Net Emigration: Instead of 236,000 immigrants moving to the Territories since 1997, as the PCBS had predicted, 74,000 residents left. Reduction: 310,000.

Internal migration: Immigrants from the Territories who received Israeli IDs over the past decade under family reunification programs (according to the Israeli Interior Ministry) must be removed from the PCBS count. Reduction: 150,000.

There were overstatements in the PCBS 1997 census, the base population used for the demographic projections.

Double Counting: Jerusalem Arabs counted in Israel's population were also counted in the PCBS 1997 census. Reduction: 210,000.

Inclusion of non-residents: The PCBS claimed it conducted a residential census, but it also included people who had been living abroad for one or more years if they ever held residential identity cards. Reduction: 374,000.

IN MARCH 1998, the PCBS publicly acknowledged the inclusion of 325,000 overseas Palestinians in its 1997 census base. The anticipated growth of this non-resident population was included in the PCBS forecasts, a fact that has been ignored or neglected by demographers and government agencies.

In October 2004, the PA's Central Election Commission reported that the number of eligible voters aged 18 and above living in the Territories was only 1.3 million, not the 1.85 million predicted and claimed by the PCBS. These figures from the Election Commission are consistent only with our lower population measurements.

The Bottom Line: The 2004 population between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is 60% Jewish and 40% Arab, similar to the ratio since 1967. In the West Bank and Israel, the ratio is 2 Jews for every 1 Arab and in pre-'67 Israel and Jerusalem, it is 4 Jews for every 1 Arab.

While the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS) categorizes non-halachic Jews from the FSU as "Jews and Others," some demographers place them in the "Palestinian Arab and Other" category, which is misleading. Israel is becoming more culturally diverse, but not more Palestinian Arab.

Growth rates since 1990 also undermine the demographic time-bomb scenario.

The Gaza growth has declined from 4% to 3% and is much lower than the rates published by the PCBS. West Bank Arab growth was equal to Israeli Jewish growth of 2.5% per annum. Notably, fertility for West Bank women has declined to 3.3 births per women, while the Israeli Jewish fertility has risen to 2.7. This half-child gap disappears when Israeli immigration and Arab emigration is fully considered. Abnormally high Israeli-Arab growth rates have been fueled by migration into pre-67 Israel.

Where are the demographers? Israeli demographers who warned that Arabs will become the majority failed to verify the base PA population and to analyze the PCBS-supplied growth rates. These rates, the highest in the world, assumed immigration would soar. Since the publication of our study, the PCBS has removed these unrealistic assumptions, collapsing its own predictions about future growth from nearly 5% to 3.5%. If the PCBS factors in emigration, these rates will fall even further.

Prof. Arnon Soffer, a University of Haifa geographer, produced a series of wildly different population estimates. In his widely distributed 2004 booklet, Israel Demography 2004-2020, he claimed the Arab population in the Territories was 3.8 million. One month later, in a pamphlet entitled Implementation of the Right of Return, he wrote that the population was only 2.8 million; a number he reconfirmed in an interview with Arutz-7 Israel National News shortly after our study was released. These dramatic vacillations make his projections about the future questionable.

Prof. Sergio DellaPergola, a demographer at Hebrew University, in recent Knesset committee hearings, publications and public forums claims that he applied high Arab birthrates to ICBS population figures from the mid-1990s. The problem with his estimate is that no conceivable fertility rate can grow the population from the last reported ICBS survey to his current claim of almost 3.5 million Arabs in the Territories.

We use the actual number of births recorded by the PA Ministry of Health. These actual figures yield high birthrates against a smaller, but more accurate base consistent with earlier ICBS and PCBS measurements of a residents-only base.

Our study is available for public examination on the Internet. Researchers must demand that all claims be equally transparent and open to review. Black boxes should no longer be tolerated for issues of such great national importance for Israel.

Some contend that the lower population we documented simply delays the demographic time bomb.

The data indicate otherwise.

The current Jewish majority, with its rising birthrate combined with modest aliya and/or returning overseas Israelis, would easily maintain the demographic balance in favor of the Jews. Parity between Jew and Arab might never be reached if Arab migration and fertility trends continue. And in Israel and the West Bank, Jewish dominance is overwhelming, both in absolute numbers and in terms of growth rates.

Given these factors, demographers who predict that Arab dominance is inevitable are indulging in pure and fallacious conjecture.

The authors comprise the American Team of this study. The Israel team includes Yoram Ettinger, Brig Gen. (Ret.) David Shahaf, Prof. Ezra Sohar, Dr. David Passig, Avraham Shvout, and Yakov Faitelson.

Talkback (moderated). Please include your first and last names, your city and country.

Avraham Mendel, Atlanta, Georgia: *In 1900, the leading Jewish historian and demographer, Dubnov, cautioned Herzl against the establishment of a Jewish State: "By the year 2000 there will be only 500,000 Jews in the land of Israel." In 2000 there were 5 million Jews in Israel.

*In 1948, Israel's Chief Statistician, Prof. Bakki, lobbied PM Ben-Gurion to postpone the establishment of the Jewish State: "By 1968 there will be an Arab majority in Israel (Green Line)." In 1968 there was a 17% Arab minority.

*In 1967, Prime Minister Eshkol was pressured to give away Gaza, Judea & Samaria: "By 1987 there will be an Arab majority west of the Jordan River." In 1987 there was a 37% Arab minority west of the Jordan River.

A recent report noted that some 150,000 Arabs have left Judea and Samaria in the past three years. It is largely the well-to-do who leave, and Jordan not long ago closed its gates for this reason, but has recently opened them.

Charles B. Hall, PhD, Associate Professor, Division of Biostatistics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, NY I reviewed the authors' internet presentation. I was surprised that the researchers did not appear to
examine school enrollment in the PA area, which should closely track birthrate. I went to the PA Ministry of Education web site and found that in "Primary" schools which in the PA means grades 1-10, 922,044 were enrolled in 2003/2004.

That implies an average of approximately 92,000 births per year unless there is substantial immigration or emigration. That number is consistent with the scenarios the authors reject. For the authors' scenario to be accurate, the PA must be overstating school enrollment by approximately 25%. This seems unlikely.

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