The Failure of Demographers

Ynet Hebrew edition, February 09, 2006

 A 1MN gap between projection and reality west of the Jordan River.


A 67% clear Jewish majority west of the Jordan River has been solidified since the "disengagement" from Gaza.  Contrary to estimates by Israel's demographic establishment, the Jewish majority has been secured for the long run, in light of decreasing Arab population growth in Judea & Samaria (1.8%), increasing population growth of Israel's Jews (2.1%), large scale Arab emigration (mostly from Judea & Samaria) since 1950, and sustained annual Aliya since 1882.  The recent Hamas electoral victory has already accelerated Arab emigration (especially by Palestinian Authority personnel), and the exacerbation of Anti-Semitism in France and in the former USSR has boosted Aliya (Jewish positive migration).


Israel's demographic establishment has based its estimates on a 1997 projection (and not a real number) by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), which projected 2.4MN Palestinians in Judea & Samaria by 2004. The projection was not scrutinized, although it has been refuted by a reality of 1.4MN Palestinians there. In order to reach its projection, the PCBS made a series of ambitious assumptions.  For instance, it assumed an astounding population growth of 170% in 14 years (1990-2004) from 1.5MN Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (as documented by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics - ICBS) to 3.8MN.  But, it was not questioned by Israel's demographic establishment, which has embraced the PCBS projection without scrutiny.


What is the source of the 1MN gap?


A US-Israel research, presented at the January 2006 "Herzliya Conference" by Bennett Zimmerman from Los Angeles, proves that the 1997 PCBS projection for Judea, Samaria and Gaza has been refuted annually by the facts on the ground.  For instance:


*325,000 Palestinians, who reside overseas, have been included in the 1997 projection, as stated by the Head of the PCBS on Feb. 26, 1998.  Such a practice, of including non-de-facto residents in the census, would resemble Israel counting the 800,000 Israelis, who reside in the US.


*210,000 Jerusalem Arabs have been double counted – as West Bankers by the PCBS and as Israelis by Israel.


*310,000 babies – included in the 1997 projection - have never been born, when examining the projection against the number of actual births, as documented by the Palestinian Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education from the village (mid-wife) level to the clinic and hospital level.


*310,000 more must be deducted from the 1997 projection due to erroneous migration projection – 236,000 NET POSITIVE migration which has not occurred - and 74,000 NET NEGATIVE MIGRATION which took place (over 10,000 net negative migration annually since 1997).


*105,000 Palestinians received Israeli ID cards since 1997, and have been double counted – as Palestinians by the PCBS and as Israelis by the ICBS.


 The Palestinian Election Commission (PEC) reports 760,000 eligible voters (18 year old and older) in Judea & Samaria.  Such a number would be compatible with a total population estimate of 1.4MN (and not 2.4MN projected by the PCBS). In other word, the Palestinian Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and the PEC have documented 70% inflation in the PCBS projection for Judea & Samaria, which has been adopted by Israel's demographic establishment.


Where have the 1MN disappeared?


Dr. Nicolas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, who participated in the "Herzliya Conference", praised the US-Israel research: "…The conclusions of this report are not only plausible but quite persuasive... I want to salute Bennett Zimmerman and his Team for their path-breaking study…they caught the demographic professionals asleep at the switch…" 


Indeed, Israel's demographic establishment has tended to ignore the substantial decline of birth rate – since 1990 - in Third World, Muslim (e.g. 1.98 children per woman in Iran) and Arab (e.g. 2.9 children in Egypt) countries. It has overlooked reports by the Palestinian Health Ministry, which attest to the gradual decrease of birth rate: Intensified family planning (e.g. 52% of married women using contraceptives), expanded education system, increase of median wedding age, upsurge of divorce rate, stronger career mentality among women, and a dramatic transformation from a poor rural to a poor urban society.


Since 1948, Israel's demographic establishment has underestimated Jewish birth rate, has overestimated Arab birth rate, and has downplayed the importance of Jewish Aliya and negative Arab migration. For instance, Jewish fertility during the last 5 years (2.7 children per woman) has exceeded the highest scenario in the 2000 projection made by ICBS, while Israel's Arab fertility (4 children) is approaching the lowest scenario. During the 1980s, Prof. Sergio Della Pergolla underestimated the total number of Soviet Jewry by 50%, and claimed that there was no prospect for a substantial Jewish Aliya from the USSR.  1MN came to Israel!  Currently, Prof. Della Pergolla is using the PCBS (without Jerusalem Arabs) as the basis for his estimates, as evidenced by his essay, published by the "American Jewish Yearbook 2003". It would have been, mathematically, impossible for him to use the ICBS (2.1MN in Judea and Samaria in 1997) as a basis for his estimates (3.4MN in 2004).


Prof. Arnon Sofer estimated a 2.8MN Arab population in Judea, Samaria and Gaza during an April 2004 lecture at Israel's military academies.  In October 2004 he published a booklet claiming a 3.8MN population there. However, in a booklet published in November 2004 he brought the total down to 2.8MN, in a May 2006 debate at the Haifa University he amplified 3.4MN and 3MN, and in a January 24, 2006 Ynet OpEd he rebounded to 3.7MN Palestinians in Judea & Samaria.




There is no demographic sword over the throat of Israel's Jews.  In 1900 Jews constituted an 8% minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, in 1948 they were a 48% minority and by 2005 they have achieved the critical mass of a durable 60% majority, including Gaza, and a 67% majority without Gaza. The only element which could upset the current demographic balance would be a net positive Arab migration to Judea & Samaria, which would then trickle into the "Green Line". 


Critical national security decisions must be based on facts and not on grossly erroneous projections made by the PCBS, and not on demographic assumptions/estimates which are divorced from reality.


Yoram Ettinger is the head of the Israeli research team.