Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ha'aretz Study Finds That Jews Are No Longer the Majority West of the Jordan River

Alth0ugh I have not done this in the past, because of the technical nature of the information and my desire to ensure the accuracy of its presentation, I have decided to reprint in its entirety the Ha'aretz article. I have not edited the article's contents.

For the first time since the establishment of Israel, the proportion of Jews living in territories under the country's control has dropped below 50 percent, standing slightly more than 49 percent, according to a probe conducted by Ha'aretz. The results are based on figures supplied by Israel and the Palestinian Authority's official statistics bureaus. According to the figures, following the upcoming disengagement, the proportion of Jews in territories under Israeli control will jump to 56.8 percent. As a result of this development, demographic expert Prof. Sergio Della Pergola of the Hebrew University said the country is ensured of a Jewish majority within its territories for the next 20 years.

Ha'aretz's probe concurs with Della Pergola's findings, who says "it appears we are at a historical moment of symbolic import, where the scales shift from one side to the other." Some 5.26 million Jews and 1.35 million Arabs, live in Israel today, according to figures published by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). In addition, there are 185,000 foreign workers and 290,000 non-Jews who immigrated under the Law of Return and are officially defined as "others." These immigrants are viewed by most of the public as Jewish, but are not recognized as such by the rabbinical establishment, and are not listed as Jews by the Interior Ministry. Some 3.8 million Palestinians, including 1.4 million in the Gaza Strip, live in the territories, according to figures recently published by the PA's central statistics bureau.

For the purposes of Ha'aretz's probe, 230,000 Palestinians who are residents of East Jerusalem were deducted from the total, since they are counted as Israeli Arabs by the CBS. Ha'aretz has reported in the past month attempts by various researchers to present the PA's figures as "inflated." An Israeli-American team headed by Ben Zimmerman and Yoram Ettinger says that the true number of the Palestinian residents of the territories is only 2.4 million. Prof. Arnon Sofer favors the IDF estimates, which put the number of Palestinians in the territories between 2.8-3 million. After reviewing their claims, the PA's central bureau of statistics decided to reduce its estimates by 200,000 in November 2004.

In recent Knesset discussions, CBS representatives supported the figures presented by the PA. At a Knesset State Control Committee meeting, Prof. Shlomo Yitzhaki said "we have no reason to suspect the figures from the central statistics bureau of the Palestinian Authority." He noted that the 1997 population census, upon which the estimates are based, was carried out according to the rules and in the presence of international observers. Combining the data produced by both research bodies leads to the conclusion that the proportion of Jews living between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea is 49.3 percent of the entire population.

Della Pergola's data leads to a similar conclusion, which is that at the end of last year, the core Jewish population (not including non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union - A.B.) came to 50.3 percent of the entire population within that same area. He believes the current rate of the Jewish population's shrinkage is just over 0.5 percent a year, which would bring the percentage of Jews to 50 percent or even a bit less.

Della Pergola says that Zimmerman and Ettinger's estimates are not realistic, but he does not rule out the plausibility of the IDF and Sofer's numbers. "It's important to understand that we cannot arrive at 100 percent credible data for the number of Palestinians, and therefore, estimates may vary by as much as several hundred thousand people. The trends, however, are incontestable. Therefore, even if we accept the minimalist premise of three million Palestinians, within a few years there will be fewer than 50 percent Jews," Della Pergola says.

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