Palestinians run for cover from tear gas during clashes near the border between Israel and Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 9, 2018. Image Credit: AFP

The Israelis, both military and politicians, have for years been focusing on the Palestinian ‘demographic threat’ for many reasons. One relates to their fears of the rising national consciousness among the Palestinians who remained in “Israel”/Palestine after the 1948 war and their demands for equal rights and a “democratic state for all citizens of Israel”, not a racist state for Jews only. Another reason is that the Israeli extremist rightist movements supporting the colonisation/colony-building policy repeatedly call to annex the occupied West Bank to Israel with the least number of its native Palestinian owners.

A third reason is the failure of the successive Israeli governments to achieve demographic balance despite all temptations by Israel and the World Zionist Organisation/Jewish Agency to increase the birthrate and bring in new emigrants. Indeed, the fact is that the number of Jews wishing to emigrate from Israel has increased.

According to a recent report by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, the number of Palestinians doubled more than nine times 70 years after Al Nakba. Their numbers, all over the world, reached around 13 million at the end of 2017, half of them in historical Palestine (1.56 million in 1948 Palestine). Thus, the Palestinians make up 49.4 per cent of the population of historical Palestine.

Israel’s population, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, reached 8.8 million at the beginning of this year, including 6.6 million Jews (with colonisers in the West Bank) and 400,000 religiously unidentified who migrated to Israel under the “law of return”, with a majority from the former Soviet states. The aforementioned Bureau put the number of Arabs in the “state of Israel” at 1.8 million, including Palestinians of occupied East Jerusalem and the Syrians in the occupied Golan Heights.

As a matter of fact, the demographic concern is one that troubles Israelis the most. The statistics of the Palestinian Bureau have deepened the debate in Israel about the demographic balance between Arabs and Jews in historical Palestine. Supporters of the two-state solution were quick to reaffirm the need to separate from the Palestinians to preserve the Jewishness of the state. But the figures were rejected by the Israeli ruling Right, again citing “demographic threat” to justify its refusal to grant the Palestinians an independent state.

Deepening the wedge

Commenting on the issue, Israeli columnist Akiva Eldar wrote: “In parallel with the intensification of [colonies] and the bringing in of more Jews, the Netanyahu government will deliberately demonise the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and employ the demographic demon to evade the benefits of any future settlement; but Israel, which spares no effort to deepen the wedge between the Palestinian people, is faced with occupation, racial discrimination and apartheid.” He concluded: “[Colony] projects and bringing in of Jews are no longer a solution to the conflict of demography. The demographic devil works side by side with his twin, the demon of racism, to prove that the Jewish-Zionist identity does not go hand in hand with democracy and equality.”

The demographic expert at the Hebrew University, Professor Sergio Della Pergola, said that according to demographic projections of the Israeli census, “the number of Jews between the river and the sea will reach 16 million by 2065 and the Arabs to 13 million, which means the number of the population in this region will reach nearly 30 million. But if the Haredi (religious Jews) growth becomes more moderate as a result of increased participation in the community and the labour market, the growth rate of the Jewish population will slow down and the proportion of the Arab population will rise.”

Practically misleading

Pergola warned saying, “If we add the entire West Bank and its entire population to Israel, the Jewish majority will shrink to 60 per cent, making the term ‘Jewish and democratic state’ practically meaningless. If we add the residents of Gaza, the Jewish majority will be reduced to 50 per cent and the Jewish state project will come to an end.” The Zionist Camp Knesset member Tsipi Livni added: “If the Israelis do not wake up from the illusion of annexing the West Bank, as the right-wing calls for, the Jewish majority will lose.” Her colleague, Nachman Shai, also said: “An equal number of Jews and Arabs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is a last warning to all concerned about Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

In the end, the matter is not about figures and numbers. Both the Arab and Islamic worlds have huge populations and their quantity of arms may be greater than that of Israel, but the issue lies in being ready and prepared. We now live in an era in which there are those in Israel who are fully supported by United States President Donald Trump and his administration. Therefore, we should not rule out large-scale evictions in fear of the demographic threat, whether in Palestine of 1948 or the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, specifically if a huge regional war breaks out. This is why the civilised world has a responsibility to provide assistance to the Palestinians so that their lands and homes are protected.

Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.