The Times of Israel reported (November 15, 2016) that “The fertility of Jewish and Arab women were identical for the first time in Israeli history in 2015, according to figures released by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS). Arab rate drops, Jewish rate rises, and women in both groups give birth to an average of 3.13 children, the highest in OECD countries.” In the year 2000, the fertility among the country’s Arab population stood at 4.3 children per woman, while the fertility rate of Jewish women was 2.6. Since then, the gap has narrowed as the Arab rate dropped off and Jewish fertility rates steadily increased.
Ben Gurion, Israel’s George Washington, must have appeared “crazy” to some observers in establishing a Jewish state in the midst of a sea of Arab-Muslims. That was clearly the picture that emerged in May of 1948. But then again, it was the same Ben Gurion who said that “in Israel, if you don’t believe in miracles, you are not a realist.”
Annually, on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics publishes the latest demographic picture. Thus, on its 68th birthday, Israel’s numbers are stunning. Israel’s population was (May 2016) 8,522,000. Of the total, 6,377,000 are Jews, including 374,000 who are listed as “other” but consist of immigrants from the Soviet Union who await official conversion to Judaism. Combined, the Jewish population amounts to 6,751,000 or 79.2%. The Arab population numbers 1,771,000 or 20.8% of the population. When it was established in 1948, Israel’s population was 806,000. The CBS estimates that Israel’s population in 2035 will stand at approximately 11.3 million.
Back in the 1980’s, Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman, boasted that the Palestinian Arabs have a “demographic bomb” through the wombs of its women that will bury Israel. He was referring to demography that, at the time, showed an overpowering natural growth for Palestinian Arabs. Then, in the early 1990’s, over a million Jews from the Soviet Union arrived in Israel. It helped change the demographic pattern between Arabs and Jews - in the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
In Israel, demography has had, and will continue to have political, economic, and military ramifications. U.S. administrations and European governments have continuously warned Israel that it must divorce itself from Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and settle on the Two States for Two People formula, meaning abandoning its historical connection to Judea and Samaria, which formed the Jewish heartland throughout history. The friendly advice from American and European officialdom to Israel’s governments was that maintaining possession of Judea and Samaria would change Israel’s character from a Jewish and democratic state to a state with an Arab majority (through its overwhelming demography), and that unless Israel gave voting rights to the Palestinians in such a scenario, it would become something akin to an “Apartheid state.” The Israeli political-left joined the choir of those who pushed for evacuating the Jewish settlements from Judea and Samaria, and for the same reason, namely, that Israel will cease to be a Jewish state and a democratic one.
“We are heading for a binational state, not a Jewish state – no question about it.” Thomas Friedman, in a New York Times article (October 19, 1987), reflected the prevailing sentiment in quoting Prof. Arnon Sofer, a leading expert on the demographic question and dean of the Faculty of Social Science at Haifa University. “Unless Israel withdraws soon from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israelis will eventually be faced with the ‘calamity’ of an Arab majority. In such a situation, Israeli Jews will either have to extend voting rights to the Arabs in the occupied territories and risk their taking over the state, or systematically deprive them of their rights and turn Israel into a South Africa-like nation.”
Dr. Guy Bechor, an Israeli legal scholar, historian, journalist, and founder of the GPlenet blog, had this to say (on YouTube), “Obama, Kerry, and Clinton are part of a wrong conception regarding demography. The data shows that there is a collapse in the Arab birthrate throughout the Middle East, including among the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. That is why the demographic conceptions once held are no longer correct.”
The magic number for maintaining demographic health and stability is 2.1 children per family. Lower than that is negative growth, below replacement level. Only Israel has above 3 children per family, and among native Israeli (sabra) couples in Israel what used to be 3 is now 4 children per family on the average, an amazing number! Turkey’s birthrates are now negative, and the same goes for Iran and North African Arab states. In Europe, birthrates are now below replacement with such numbers as 1.1, 1.2, and 1.3 children per family. That is why Europe is collapsing. There won’t be anyone to continue the next generation.
International sources, including CIA data, point out the following regarding the Palestinian-Arabs. In 2003, the average number of children per Palestinian mother was over 5. In 2013, 10 years later, the average number has declined to 2.7 children. In Saudi Arabia the decline during the same period was from 6 children to 2.2. What prompted such a decline? According to Bechor, urbanization is one reason. Most Palestinians, about 75%, now live in cities. Another reason is the emigration of young Palestinians. About 10,000-17,000 Palestinians immigrate annually, mostly to Europe. A third reason is the rise of the marriage age in the Palestinian Authority. Fourthly, Arab women want to work by choice and necessity, and do not want to sit home and have babies. This is happening throughout the Middle East.
These trends are spreading throughout the region, with the exception of Israel, where birthrates are rising. This Israeli phenomenon is unparalleled. In the U.S. there is now negative growth, and in France, where the government once boasted 2 children per family, the number is now 1.9.
Why is Israel an exception? The arrival of over 1 million Jews from the former Soviet Union brought a significant change. In Russia the norm was 1.5 children per family, and now in Israel it has grown to 3. For secular Israeli-born couples, the norm is now 4 children, up from 3. Economically, Israel has never been better off, and unlike Californians who count the lowest number of kids per family, for Israelis, self-fulfillment means larger families. Among the national-religious sector in Israel, the norm now is 5 children per family, and among the Jews in Judea and Samaria it is even higher, at an average of 6 children per family. That is why 400,000 Jews now live there, and another 300,000 in the former East Jerusalem.
Ben Gurion was right when he claimed that “if you don’t believe in miracles, you are not a realist.” Israel’s demographic reality today is simply miraculous. In political terms it means that Arafat’s demographic challenge to Israel is no longer valid. It also dispels the Israeli alarmists and their American supporters who saw Israel overwhelmed by Arab demography.
The day may come when Israel might have to take unilateral action regarding the territories of Judea and Samaria as it did in Gaza. This however, must be the result of a comprehensive strategy based on, first and foremost, security considerations. Only then should it be followed by ethical and moral, as well as political and economic factors. Demography should no longer be a weapon used to threaten and scare the people of Israel.