The Population of Palestine Prior to 1948
The population figures for mandatory and Turkish Palestine are of historical interest and figure in many historical debates. The Zionist claim that Palestine was "a land without a people" is challenged by pro-Palestinian historians who cite census figures showing a substantial Palestinian-Arab population by 1914. The Zionists note that most of this increase seems to have occurred after 1880, when Jews began developing Palestine. Census figures of the Ottoman Empire were unreliable. Foreign and illegal residents did their best to evade the census, as did people wishing to evade military services and taxes. The population figures of the British mandate were more reliable, but there was no census taken after 1930, or if there was, the figures were kept secret. Mandatory figures for the period after 1930 are based on hospital and immigration records and extrapolation, it seems.
Under the British Mandate which began after WWI, Jewish population increased due to immigration, especially in the 1930s. Arab population also increased at an exceptional rate, so that according to birthrate figures, Palestinian Arabs had the highest birthrate figures of any Arab country. Joan Peters, in her book "From Time Immemorial," argues that most of this increase was in fact due to illegal Arab immigration. Norman Finkelstein and others have criticized her thesis and shown evidence of poor scholarship. Finkelstein's analysis also shows that the largest increases of Palestinian Arab population occurred close to Jewish population centers in Palestine, which would argue against the Palestinian contention that the Zionists were dispossessing Arabs. We do not know if this increase was due to population shifts in Palestine or immigration from outside Palestine. It is certain that there was at least some illegal Palestinian-Arab immigration, as noted in British mandatory reports. Immigration from Transjordan was not illegal, and was not recorded as immigration at all until 1938. During World War II, the British recruited Arab workers from the Houran in Syria and elsewhere. Arabs also came to Palestine before the war, attracted by higher wages. However, since much of the depletion of Palestinian population that had occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was due to migration to neighboring countries, many of these returning Arabs may have been families returning to Palestine.
Population of Ottoman Palestine
The population of Ottoman "Palestine" is difficult to estimate, because:
1. There was no administrative district of Palestine. Turkish census figures were for various districts, including the Jerusalem, Acco and Nablus districts for example. The Acre district included areas in Lebanon, outside the modern borders of Palestine in which there were no Jews.
2. Turkish census figures did not include Bedouins (estimated at a few thousand) and foreign subjects. A considerable proportion of the Jews retained their foreign nationality (usually Russian) in Ottoman Palestine.
3. Both Arabs and Jews avoided the Turkish census. Foreigners who were without residence permits did not want to make their presence known. Arabs and Jews wished to avoid taxes and conscription.
4. In the 19th century, only Muslims were subject to the draft, and accordingly, Muslims tended to avoid the census.
5. According to Justin McCarthy, the census tended to undercount women and children.
6. The Turkish census data were not published.
7. There was no British census after 1931, and the census of 1922 was not very methodical. Therefore, the 1931 census data are the only real census data for Palestine before 1948.
As the data are ambiguous, different sources give different estimates. In particular, Zionist sources may exaggerate the number of Jews in earlier years and undercount Arabs, and Arab sources According to Bacchi, (cited here) there were 489,200 Arabs (Muslims and Christians) in Palestine in 1890 and 42,900 Jews.
According to Beinin and Hajjar the Turkish census for 1878 listed 462,465 Turkish subjects in the Jerusalem, Nablus and Acre districts: 403,795 Muslims (including Druze), 43,659 Christians and 15,011 Jews. In addition, there were at least 10,000 Jews with foreign citizenship (recent immigrants to the country), and several thousand Muslim Arab nomads (Bedouin) who were not counted as Ottoman subjects.
However, according to the data of Karpat, cited here, in the Ottoman Turkish Census of 1893, there were 371,959 Muslims and 42,689 Christians, for a total of 414,648 Arab Palestinians, and only about 9,000 Jews. The data of Beinin and Hajar probably include subdistricts of the Acre Sanjak that are in modern Lebanon. Everyone agrees that the numbers for Jews and Muslims are far too low. Rupin (cited in the same article here) claimed there were a total of 689,275 persons in Palestine in 1893, of whom about 80,000 were Jews. This number is probably an overestimate.
According to Justin McCarthy, in 1860, there were 411,000 Arabs in Palestine, in 1890 there were 553,000, in 1914 there were 738,000, but in 1918 there were only 689,000. As there was no census in several of those years, it is not clear how he draws these conclusions McCarthy tells us that these numbers have been adjusted for undercounting of women and children, accounting for the differences between McCarthy's figures and census data. The drop during the war may have been caused by famine and disease as McCarthy claims but he doesn't note that in 1922, the British census listed only 660,641 Arab Palestinians (Christians and Arabs, see table below) nor does he explain the drop from 1918. Perhaps the earlier figures include areas of Palestine not included in the mandate or other overestimates.
By 1908, according to Dr. Hala Fattah
( http://www.jerusalemites.org/jerusalem/ottoman/1.htm ) :
" when Sultan Abdul-Hamid II's rule collapsed, it was estimated that the Jewish population of Palestine had risen to 80,000, three times its number in 1882, when the first entry restrictions were imposed." Other estimates put Jewish prewar population as low as 40,000 and as high as 100,000.
According to Arjan El Fassed in 1912 there were only 40,000 Jews and 525,000 Arabs in Palestine. However, Beinin and Hajjar claim that the "Arab population in 1914 was 683,000. By the outbreak of World War I (1914), the population of Jews in Palestine had risen to about 60,000, about 33,000 of whom were recent settlers."
The war reduced both Arab and Jewish populations to some extent, so that there were variously, according to different sources, 40,000 to about 80,000 Jews in Palestine.
Comparing some of these numbers is illuminating. The census of 1893 gives a total of 414,648 Arab Palestinians. Rodinson (1968 - see table below) listed 469,000 Arabs for 1893, Bacchi claimed there were 489,000, McCarthy estimated 553,000, and Rupin estimated about 600,000 all for approximately the same year. Likewise, as noted, there were wide discrepancies for Jews as well. Maxime Rodinson (see table below) claimed there were only 7,000 Jews in 1870, and 10,000 in 1893 (apparently taking the Jewish population figures, but not the Arab ones from the Turkish census of that year) while Bacchi estimated that there were about 42,000 Jews in 1893. Hala Fattah claimed about 80,000 Jews in 1908, while Maxime Rodinson listed only 60,000 in 1914.
Some additional tables for mandatory and Ottoman Palestine are below.
The following table is given by Maxime Rodinson
(Rodinson, M., Israel and the Arabs, Penguin, 1968).
Estimated Population of Palestine 1870-1946*
Arabs (%) Jews (%) Total
1870 367,224 (98%) 7,000 (2%) 375,000
1893 469,000 (98%) 10,000 (2%) 497,000
1912 525,000 (93%) 40,000 (6%) 565,000
1920 542,000 (90%) 61,000 (10%) 603,000
1925 598,000 (83%) 120,000 (17%) 719,000
1930 763,000 (82%) 165,000 (18%) 928,000
1935 886,000 (71%) 355,000 (29%) 1,241,000
1940 1,014,000 (69%) 463,000 (31%) 1,478,000
1946 1,237,000 (65%) 608,000 (35%) 1,845,000
Figures are rounded.
Sources: The numbers in this table are estimates constructed from the following:
Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, "The Population of the Large Towns in Palestine During the First Eighty Years of the Nineteenth Century, According to Western Sources" in Moshe Ma'oz, ed.
Studies on Palestine during the Ottoman Period, Magnus, 1975;
Alexander Scholch, "The Demographic Development of Palestine 1850-1882",
International Journal of Middle East Studies, XII, 4, November 1985, pp. 485-505; "Palestine",
Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edn, 1911; "Palestine",
Encyclopedia of Islam, 1964;
UN Document A/AC 14/32, 11 November 1947, p.304;
Justin McCarthy, "The Population of Ottoman Syria and Iraq, 1878-1914",
Asian and African Studies, XV, 1 March 1981;
Kemal Karpat, "Ottoman Population Records and the Census of 1881/82-1893",
International Journal of Middle East Studies, XCI, 2, 1978;
Bill Farell, "Review of Joan Peters", 'From Time Immemorial',
Journal of Palestine Studies, 53, Fall 1984, pp. 126-34;
Walid Khalidi, From Heaven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948,
Institute for Palestine Studies, 1971 appendix I;
Janet L. Abu Lughod, "The Demographic Transformation of Palestine", in Ibrahim Abu Lughod, ed.,
The Transformation of Palestine: Essays on the Origin and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Northwestern University Press, 1971 pp. 139-63.
It must be understood that the figures in the above table are estimates. There was no census in most of the years given in the table above, and likewise in the estimates given below for Mandate population. However, the estimates for mandatory Palestine are in fair agreement. Rodinson gives 1.478 million total population in 1940, while the Esco figures estimate 1,544,530 for the same year.
Population Growth Estimates under the Mandate
These estimates are based primarily on the reports of the British Mandate for Palestine and the Mandatory censuses, conducted in 1922 and 1931. All figures following 1931 are estimates. There was an unknown amount of Arab and Jewish illegal immigration, which could only be estimated by the British authorities.
Population of Palestine, 1922-1942a,b
Year Total Moslems Jews Christians Others
(No.) (%) (No.) (%) (No.) (%) (No.) (%)
1922 Census 752,048 589,177 78.34 83,790 11.14 71,464 9.50 7,617 1.01
1931 Census 1,033,314 759,700 73.52 174,606 16.90 88,907 8.60 10,101 0.98
1931c 1,036,339 761,922 73.52 175,138 16.90 89,134 8 60 10,145 0.98
1932 1,073,827 778,803 72.52 192,137 17.90 92,520 8.61 10,367 0.97
1933 1,140,941 798,506 69.99 234,967 20.59 96,791 8.48 10,677 0.94
1934 1,210,554 814,379 67.27 282,975 23.38 102,407 8.46 10,793 0.89
1935 1,308,112 836,688 63.96 355,157 27.15 105,236 8.04 11,031 0.85
1936 1,366,692 862,730 63.13 384,078 28.10 108,506 7.94 11,378 0.83
1937 1,401,794 883,446 63.02 395,836 28.24 110,869 7.91 11,643 0.83
1938 1,435,285 900,250 62.72 411,222 28.65 111,974 7.80 11,839 0.83
1939 1,501,698 927,133 61.74 445,457 29.66 116,958 7.79 12,150 0.81
1940 1,544,530 947,846 61.37 463,535 30.01 120,587 7.81 12,562 0.81
1941 1,585,500 973,104 61.38 474,102 29.90 125,413 7.91 12,881 0.81
1942 1,620,005 995,292 61.44 484,408 29.90 127,184 7.85 13,121 0.81
Source: Esco Foundation (1947).
·Exclusive of members of His Majesty's Forces (Great Britain).
·Adapted from table, "Estimated Population of Palestine," Statistical Abstract of Palestine 1943, p. 2.
c. The figures for 1931 and following years are as of 31 December of each year.
Recorded immigration and emigration, Palestine, 1930-1939
Year or period Immigration Emigration Net immigration
Jews Non-Jews Total Jews Non-Jews Total Jews Non-Jews Total
1930 4,944 1,489 6,433 1,679 1,324 3,003 3,265 165 3,430
1931 4,075 1,458 5,533 666 680 1,346 3,409 778 4,187
1932 9,553 1,736 11,289 xa X x 9,553 1,736 11,289
1933 30,327 1,650 31,977 x X x 30,327 1,650 31,977
1934 42,359 1,784 44,143 x X x 42,359 1,784 44,143
1935 61,854 2,293 64,147 396 387 783 61,458 1,906 63,364
1936 29,727 1,944 31,671 773 405 1,178 28,954 1,539 30,493
1937 10,536 1,939 12,475 889 639 1,528 9,647 1,300 10,947
1938 12,868 2,395 15,263 1,095 716 1,811 11,773 1,679 13,452
1939 16,405 2,028 18,433 1,019 977 1,996 15,386 1,051 16,437
Total 222,648 18,716 241,364 6,517 5,128 11,645 216,131 13,588 229,719
Source: Esco Foundation (1947).
a. "x" indicates that emigration was not reported.
Illegal Immigration in the 1930s
Under the pressures of the Arab revolt, the British government in Palestine reduced immigration quotes and took stricter measures to control illegal immigration beginning in 1938, as well as to curtail Jewish immigration. The excerpt of the mandate report of 1937 below shows that in fact, most of the illegal immigrants apprehended were not Jewish, but "others."
36. Jewish immigrants to the number of 12,868 were registered during the year. Of these, 1,753 were capitalist immigrants whose dependants numbered 1,722, 2,537 were students whose maintenance in an approved educational institution is assured, 2,573 were persons coming to employment whose dependants numbered 1,662, and 2,565 were dependants of residents of Palestine.
37. The Palestine Government has continued to take measures to check illegal immigration through the agency of His Majesty's Consular Officers abroad, by control arrangements at the ports and frontiers and by the employment of special preventive forces by land and sea.
Illicit immigration through the northern frontier is being more effectively controlled as the result of the construction of the frontier fence and frontier road and the employment of a special force of police in this area.
The improvement of the existing control of illicit immigration by sea by the establishment of an organized coast guard service was under consideration at the end of the year.
38. Seven hundred and fifty-two persons, including 103 Jews who entered Palestine surreptitiously during 1935, were later detected, sentenced to imprisonment and recommended for deportation. Seven hundred and thirty-three deportations were carried out during the year, comprising 30 Jews and 703 other persons.
Seven Jewish and twelve other travellers were deported for overstaying their period of permitted stay in the country. In addition, 1,111 persons were summarily deported to Syria and Egypt.
Towards the close of the year illicit immigration of Jews from countries of Central and Eastern Europe appeared to be on the increase, doubtless as a result of the further deterioration in the political, social and economic situation of Jews in those countries.
Population and Land Ownership prior to the UN Partition Resolution
An Anglo-American commission of inquiry in 1945 and 1946 examined the status of Palestine. No official census figures were available, as no census had been conducted in Palestine in 1940, so all their surmises and figures are based on extrapolations and surmises. According to the report, at the end of 1946, 1,269,000 Arabs and 608,000 Jews resided within the borders of Mandate Palestine. Jews had purchased 6 to 8 percent of the total land area of Palestine. This was about 20% of the land that could be settled and cultivated. About 46% of the land belonged to Arab owners living on the land or absentee owners, and about the same amount was government land. The partition borders were drawn to give the Jews a majority within the allotted area of the Jewish state, but the land conquered during the fighting included the populous Arab areas of the Galilee, as well as Arab towns such as Lod and Ramla. Greater Jerusalem, which was to be internationalized, included about 100,000 Jews and a larger number of Arabs.
This material is copyright 2002- 2005 by MidEastWeb and Ami Isseroff and may be reprinted for nonprofit use, provided credit is given to MidEastweb. Do not copy this Web Page - please link to us. Do not redistribute this material without identifying the source and giving the URL of this page http://www.mideastweb.org/zionism.htm
Brig.-Gen. (ret.) David Shahaf (Shaffi) listens intently as American strategy consultant Bennett Zimmerman and leading Israeli demographer Sergio Della Pergola engage in a debate.
The setting is the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The subject: A new study conducted by Zimmerman and a team of American and Israeli researchers, which challenges the heretofore uncontested facts of Israel's "demographic problem" with the Palestinians.
Zimmerman's American-based team has come to Israel to present its findings to the Knesset and other forums. Della Pergola is skeptical about the findings. That there isn't a single demographer among the presenters is not his main criticism. Of greater concern to him and other population experts is the revolutionary claim that contrary to decades'-long, world-wide acceptance, it is the Jews who will continue to outnumber the Arabs in Israel and not the other way around – a claim he and his followers consider at best politically motivated, at worst unfounded.
Shaffi, one of the Israeli members of the research team, sits at the oval table of the JCPA conference room furiously taking notes, his facial expression alternating between calm bemusement and frustrated bewilderment. The 57-year-old former head of the Civil Administration in the West Bank and Gaza was selected to take part in the study due to his experience in overseeing and analyzing population censuses among Palestinians living in the territories before they came under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction.
During an hour-long interview at his Zahala home a few days earlier, Shaffi was armed with a stack of documents whose contents he rattled off passionately, almost without pause.
"What is happening among Palestinian women is no different from what's happening in the rest of the developing world," he said, pointing to serious drops in fertility rates, which he also attributed to the high level of education of the Palestinians. Furthermore, he added, contrary to all numerical projections, rather than there being massive immigration into the territories, there has been a high percentage of emigration. These are just some of the factors he said the research team examined to explain the discrepancy in the touted demographic statistics and the actual numbers.
The team that compiled the report was headed by Yoram Ettinger, a former diplomat in the Shamir government who later spent time in Washington on behalf of the Likud working as a lobbyist against the Oslo Accords. But Shahaf rejects charges that this means the study is just another form of right-wing propaganda. "If anyone wants to challenge us, he should do so by challenging our figures, not by attacking us politically," he says. "Let him deal with the trends we are exposing, rather than accusing us of impure motives."
What brought on this new study on Israel's demographics?
The question of the size of the Palestinian population is not a new one, of course. During my term at the Civil Administration in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, many population censuses were conducted, due to the need for planning everything from housing to the size of classrooms. Yet since 1997 – when Israel handed over administrative control in the territories to the Palestinians – no such census had been done. All planning since then was based on PA Central Bureau of Statistics data and forecasts. That's what brought on the study.
You based your research on Palestinian Authority data?
Yes. The Civil Administration had an adviser who was the representative of the Central Bureau of Statistics in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. There were teams of Palestinians on our payroll who conducted the population surveys. But until the authority was handed over to the Palestinians, the data analyses were handled by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics. At the time, there were always discrepancies between the data of the Interior Ministry and the Central bureau of Statistics. For example, in 1989, we did a serious study – which we called the forecast for Judea, Samaria and Gaza in 2005. That was before the whole Oslo process began. The reason we needed the data had to do with planning how many schools would be needed, for example.
Not for political reasons?
No, absolutely not.
When did the demography issue first arise as the focus of a political debate?
You might be surprised to hear that even during the British Mandate period it was an issue.
After completing my part of the research on this current study, I continued to search for and examine all kinds of written material on the subject. Among this material, I came upon a 1947 document in the Library of the Intelligence Corps, which indicates that the discussion of the number of Jews and Arabs in pre-state Palestine was a political one.
Political on the part of the British?
Yes, the British made demography a political issue, and as a result, so did the Jews and the Arabs.
After finding this document, I sent a photocopy of it to Yoram [Ettinger], and wrote in the margins: "Nothing new under the sun." Because, when you read this document, you feel as though you might as well be reading a description of today's debate.
First of all, the author's thesis is that there is not an Arab majority in Israel. In 1947! And just remember, in 1947, it was said that there were 600,000 Jews and more than a million Arabs. And here he was saying that there wasn't an Arab majority.
Who wrote this document?
Someone named Traivish. I hadn't heard of him before. But he conducted a very thorough study in which he pointed to "surprising findings": that there is not an Arab majority in Israel.
"The time has come," he wrote, "to put an end, once and for all, to the myth of natural growth among the Arab population the numbers [we have been basing our forecasts on] are imaginary "
About the census the British conducted in 1922, following the Balfour Declaration, he said: "This is the way the statistics were presented in pre-state Israel: from the Mandatory bureaucracy to the cabinet; from the members of the cabinet to the house of representatives, to the press, to politicians, all of whom base their ideas on those statistics, and everybody repeats them year in and year out, in writing and orally, and thus a purposely misleading idea is turned into a fact accepted by the whole world."
This is just what is happening today. The Palestinians conducted a census in 1997 and [recently retired Haifa University Geography Professor] Arnon Soffer and others base their positions on those numbers.
In other words, in 1947, the assumption that the demography favored the Arabs was based on a false 1922 British census, while today, demographer Sergio Della Pergola and his followers are basing their statistics and positions on the basis of a false 1997 Palestinian census.
What do you say to "father of disengagement," Arnon Soffer, when he says that Israel can't rule over territory and a people who became a majority after 1967?
I don't want to get into the politics of this whole thing. Nor do I want to engage in a debate with Prof. Soffer about it. But I will say that our research team came across a very recent document written by Soffer himself, claiming that there are one million people in Gaza – which is what we also say. This contradicts other publications of his that claim there are a million and a half. Suddenly, his numbers concur with ours.
So? What is the significance in the discrepancy? Does it really change anything where the issue is one of one people ruling over another? I mean, let's suppose there are only 40 percent Arabs in the territories, and not 50%. Are you comfortable with that?
The question is a different one altogether. What is significant is that population patterns and trends among the Palestinians are changing.
RUTHIE BLUM, Jerusalem Post, February 3rd 2005.
PALESTINE SINCE THE ROMANS
Facts about Jerusalem