By Justin McCarthy
The Problem of Identity
For the Ottoman period, the answer to the question of Palestinian identity is, statistically at least, fairly simple. The Ottomans kept records only by religious affiliation. Although they did not use "national" distinctions such as Syrian, Iraqi, or Palestinian, one can consider as Palestinians those Ottoman subject Muslims and Christians who lived in Palestine (defined as the area that would become the Palestine Mandate) between 1517 and 1917. This includes very few whose descendants would not consider themselves Palestinians. The same criteria can be applied to the British Mandate Palestinian citizen Christians and Muslims (including Druzes, who were registered as Muslims by the Ottomans and thus must be included as Muslims in any comparisons to Ottoman data).
After the Palestinian expulsion and flight in 1948, identification becomes particularly difficult. In the absence of detailed surveys, demographers cannot know certainly whether the children of intermarriages of Palestinians and non-Palestinians are Palestinians. Also, what proportion of the children of Palestinians who came to the Americas or western Europe consider themselves to be Palestinians? Anecdotal evidence and what is known from political activity indicate that Palestinians have kept their national identification in whichever country they live. Therefore, Muslims and Christians who either live in Palestine or whose ancestors did so until 1948 are considered here to be Palestinians. This surely includes some who do not consider themselves to be Palestinians and excludes some who do, but there is no statistical option. It also should be noted that when Palestinians married non-Palestinians, demographic statistics in effect count one-half of the children as Palestinians.
The Quality of the Data
The quality of Mandate statistics declined after the 1931 census. Civil unrest, followed by World War II, made it impossible for the British to take another census. They were forced to adopt unreliable statistical procedures, such as estimating the total population by adding registered births and subtracting registered deaths. Because neither births nor deaths were properly recorded, the results were unsatisfactory .After 1948, the statistical situation deteriorated even further in the WEST BANK and the GAZA STRIP. The Jordanians took censuses of the West Bank in 1952 and 1961. The second was more complete than the first, but neither was complete. Gaza's citizens were not enumerated between 1931 and 1967, when the Israelis made a census of both Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli census provided the most valuable data yet collected. No census was taken after 1967. However, Israeli demographers have made valuable surveys and studies of demography and fertility in Palestine. Israeli counts of Palestinians within the 1948 borders are accurate, given the usual limitation of any census taking.
All of these points must be kept in mind when any statistics on Palestinians are presented, including those presented here. All figures on Palestinian population are estimations. By making different assumptions on fertility and mortality rates, demographers may arrive at slightly different conclusions. It is nevertheless possible to arrive at reasonable estimates of the Palestinian population. Table 1 presents the population of the Palestinians in the world from 1860 to 2000.
Table 1 include Muslim and Christian legal residents of Ottoman Palestine. Aliens and Ottoman subjects legally resident elsewhere, such as soldiers, government officials, and merchants, are excluded. The figures for the Mandate Period (1918, 1931, 1940, and 1946) include the Muslim, Christian, and Druze citizens of Palestine; non-citizens are excluded. After 1931, British statistics did not list the Druze separately, but included them in the "other" category with Samaritans, Baha'is, and others. For post-1931 data the Druze have been assumed to be the same proportion of the "other" category as they were in 1931. Bedouin are included in all the figures. All the data for the Ottoman and Mandate periods have been adjusted for undercounting of women and children, using the calculations in The Population of Palestine (McCarthy, 1990).
Statistics for the period 1950 to 2000 have been drawn from a number of sources, including censuses, when available, and estimations of Palestinian population in the Arab countries in 1990 made by the U .S. Census Bureau (U .S. Census Bureau, 1991 ). The Census Bureau calculations, which consider available data from censuses and population surveys, are the best available estimation of the Palestinian population in the Arab countries and Israel in 1990. Information on known fertility and mortality rates has been combined to create model projections of the Palestinian population at ten year intervals. Insufficient data make it impossible to provide much information on subpopulations of the Palestinians. Ethnically and linguistically they are Arabs. Levels of linguistic assimilation among migrants to Europe and America are unknown. The major statistical division among Palestinians is religious. In Ottoman times, 11 to 12 percent of the Palestinians were Christians, the rest Muslims (a category in which the Ottomans included Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Druze). As a result of a lower birth rate, emigration, and a higher mortality rate in World War I, the Christian population steadily dropped from 1914 to 1967 (11 percent in 1914, 9 percent in 1931, 8 percent in 1967) within the borders of Palestine. The religious breakdown of the Palestinians after 1967 is unknown.The Palestinian population has experienced sustained growth since the latter half of the nineteenth century .The one exception to this pattern occurred during World War I. As a result of the conditions of war, and particularly the fact that Palestine was a major battlefield of the war, 6 percent of the Muslims, and 13 percent of the Christians, of Palestine emigrated or died during the war. Growth during the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Ottoman period was similar to that experienced in most of the Ottoman Empire and remained at a moderate level before World War II. During the period before 1945, a relatively high mortality rate slowed growth. After the war, high fertility and decrease in mortality made the Palestinian population one of the fastest growing in history.
Palestinian Population, 1860-2000 (thousands)
|YEAR||WITHIN PALESTINE||ISRAEL||WEST BANK*||GAZA||INSIDE PALESTINE||TOTAL|
* including East Jerusalem
** population drop was caused by WW I and the famine which followed
There was considerable difference in the fertility of Muslim and Christian Palestinians during the British Mandate and particularly after 1948. During the Mandate period, the average Christian woman had two-thirds as many children as the average Muslim woman. In Israel, that figure was even lower. In the 1960s and 1970s, Christian Palestinian women in Israel had on average less than half as many children as Muslim Palestinian women. This differential was most likely due to cultural and economic variation. Christian women tended to marry later, thus leaving less time for childbearing. In 1931, for example, Mandate statistics show that 75 percent of the Muslim women aged fifteen to forty-four were married, but only 65 percent of the Christians. Whereas one-third of the Muslim women aged fifteen to nineteen were married, one-fifth of the Christians were. Christians were better educated and more urban: in 1931, 76 percent of Christians were urban, 25 percent of Muslims; 70 percent of Christian males over age twenty-one were literate, 18 percent of Muslim males). Both these factors traditionally reduce fertility .Christians, at least from the 1960s on, were also more likely to use methods of artificial birth control. Conversely, Muslim women married and began to have children early. In the 1970s, the average Palestinian Muslim woman had already had two or more children by age twenty-four, and an average of nearly six children by age thirty-four. Very few Muslim women used contraceptive techniques.
Muslims were a large majority of the Palestinians, so their fertility set the pattern. Fertility decline, never great, was affected by a change in Muslim marriage practices. In 1931, three-fourths of Muslim women twenty to forty-four were married, slightly more than half in 1967. Change in patterns of early marriage was particularly marked: 45 percent of the females fifteen to nineteen (Muslims and Christians) were married in 1931; by 1967 the number of married females in this age group had fallen to 19 percent on the West Bank and 14 percent in Gaza. By 1990, the number of married fifteen- to nineteen-year-old females had dropped to approximately 10 percent (Ennab, 1994). The 1995 Palestine Demographic Survey found a median age of marriage of twenty-three for males and eighteen for females.
Outside Palestine, Palestinian fertility generally remained high. Palestinian women in Syria, for example, had on average two to three more children than native Syrian women. Palestinians in Jordan experienced even higher fertility than Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza, a TFR of 7.6 in 1979 and 7.4 in 1989. In other regions, however, Palestinian fertility declined. The reasons for this varied by country. To a large extent, the fertility of Palestinians has declined when their economic status has risen, a phenomenon seen worldwide in most cultures. Palestinian fertility in Egypt was two-thirds of that in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinian fertility in Kuwait initially was high (6.4 TFR in 1970), but was below 4.5 by the mid-1970s. Little is known of the demographic picture of Palestinians outside the Middle East. If they follow the pattern of other Arab migrants to Europe and the United States, their fertility probably slowly adjusted to that of their countries of residence. By 1990, their fertility would have been more similar to that of those countries than that of the West Bank or Gaza, though still higher than the European standard.
As indicated in Table 2, the mortality rate (defined as the proportion of deaths to the total population) among the Palestinians diminished greatly from 1860 to 2000, with the greatest, decrease in modern times.
Table 2 displays a standard measure of mortality, expectancy of life at birth: the average number of years a
Palestinian male or female could expect to live from birth. The statistic is heavily affected by deaths among children. For example, 29 percent of the children born in 1914 could be expected to die before reaching age one and 43 percent would die between birth and age five. Those who reached age five could expect to live quite a bit longer-on average to slightly past age fifty.
In the Ottoman period, Palestinians experienced the same general increase in life expectancy as inhabitants of the other Ottoman Mediterranean coastal regions. Mortality decline in the latter half of the nineteenth century was similar to that seen in other parts of the Ottoman Empire. The decline was not due to medicine or doctors. The cause was an improvement in public security, trade, and production-changes resulting from the increased power of the central government. There were enough to eat, a bit more money, and relative peace from internal conflicts and Bedouin raids. The end of major epidemic diseases was statistically less significant, but still important. By 1870, the great cholera epidemics were over. Plague, traditionally the worst epidemic killer, effectively disappeared in the 1840s.
The spread of modern medicine in Israel, prenatal and postnatal care, and the continuation of Mandate policies such as vaccination and draining of malarial swamps gradually lowered the Palestinian mortality rate in Israel. In 1950, the life expectancy at birth of Palestinian Arabs in Israel was more than twenty years lower than that of Jews, but in 198.0, it had improved to six years lower than Jewish life expectancy. Greatly decreased infant mortality obviously had great effect. In Gaza and the West Bank, mortality rate decline was much slower. This is not surprising, given the miserable health conditions of REFUGEES, who began their refugee status living in tents with limited food and little clean water. The wonder is that the mortality rate was not much worse. The credit for this and much of the subsequent improvement in mortality goes to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)-which drained swamps, vaccinated children, and provided pure water and health clinics-and to the cooperation of the Palestinians themselves. Table 2 presents only data from Palestine proper.
Palestinian mortality rate followed the general pattern seen among populations in the same geographic region. The mortality rate in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria in the 1980s was virtually the same as that in the West Bank and Gaza.
Table 2 combines mortality rates for the West Bank and Gaza into one set of data. There is some evidence from Israeli statistics that mortality rate in Gaza may have been slightly lower than that of the West Bank. This is disputed by some demographers. Were it true, the life expectancy as shown in the Table 2 would change by only approximately one year.
Infant mortality rate among the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank remained relatively high until 1990. The pattern there resembled that of surrounding Arab countries, what might be called Middle Eastern standard mortality decline, in which adult mortality rate decreases much more quickly than infant mortality rate. The infant mortality rate of Palestinians in Israel resembles that of Kuwait or some European countries. It may be noted that infant deaths in Gaza and the West Bank always have been poorly reported, so the infant mortality rates given here are drawn from standard demographic tables.
Palestinian Mortality, 1860-2000
AT BIRTH (YEARS)
AT BIRTH (YEARS)
|West Bank &
* in one year, death of children under one divided by births
Mandate authorities did not record migration properly before 1932; non-Jewish immigration was recorded fairly well, but not emigration. Statistics indicate that only 838 more Muslims entered Palestine than left from 1932 to 1946. Numbers of both Muslim immigrants and Muslim emigrants were relatively small. For example, from 1937 to 1939, a yearly average of only 305 Arab residents of Palestine was registered as leaving Palestine permanently. Christian immigration was much greater than emigration, a net surplus of 20,051, but the statistics do not discriminate between Arab and other Christians, and many of the Christian migrants were not Arabs. Arab immigrants emigrated primarily from Lebanon and Syria. A large majority of Arab emigrants from Mandatory Palestine went to the United Kingdom, the next largest group to other Arab countries, and some to Latin America.
The 1948 Expulsion and Flight
Because no count of the refugees could have been taken during their exodus, analysts necessarily must look at the populations before and after the events to arrive at the numbers of refugees.
Subtracting the numbers who remained within the armistice borders of Israel from the number who were in the same area before the war would yield approximately the number who emigrated or died in the war. The numbers of Arabs in Palestine at the end of the Mandate and inside and out of Israel after the war are known (Table 1), but ascertaining the numbers who lived within and without the 1948 armistice borders is difficult. It has proved impossible to trace exactly the population of Palestine by district in 1947-48, which would be essential to a complete accurate analysis. Therefore, this study has taken the best analysis of the division of population numbers inside and out of the 1948 borders before the war, that of Janet Abu-Lughod (Abu-Lughod, 1971), as abase. (It is not possible to accept all of the Abu-Lughod thesis, because she assumes that the official Mandate statistics were accurate, when in fact they were undercounts of population and erroneous on fertility and mortality [see McCarthy, 1990]. She also counts all those not listed as Jews as Palestinian Arabs, whereas all non-citizens, as well as non-Druze listed along with the Druze under the category "Other" in the British data, should be excluded. For example, a Syrian Arab in Palestine in 1948 may have been forced to flee, but he was a Syrian expelled from Palestine, not a Palestinian. )
Of the 1,358,000 Palestinian Arab 9itizens of Palestine in 1948, approximately 873;600 resided within what. would become the Israeli borders, 485,000 without. The Israelis recorded 156,000 non-Jews in 1948, a number that included perhaps 1,000 non-Arabs, leaving 155,000 Palestinians in Israel. This means that 718,000 Palestinians either were refugees or died during the war. Note that this number depends on the somewhat imprecise estimation of the numbers who lived on both sides of the border before the war, and so should be taken as a mean estimate. However, statistically it cannot be wrong by more than 5 to 10 percent (for other analyses, see Khalidi, 1992; Bachi, 1977).
Of the Palestinian religious groups, Muslims had the highest proportion of their numbers as refugees, Christians somewhat less. Relatively few of the Druze became refugees.
Refugees Registered with UNRWA.
* including West Bank in 1950 and 1959
** Jewish refugees
Sources: UNRWA, 1959; UNRWA, 1979; UNRWA, 1999; Peretz, 1958; Peretz, 1993;
The UNRWA figures are in essence not records of population but records of distributed rations. In the chaotic time immediately after the Palestinian exodus, families naturally maximized their benefits whenever possible by claiming extra members and not registering deaths so that extra rations could be claimed. Hungry refugees cannot be faulted for this, but it does confuse statistical data. In addition, as the UNRWA recognized, large numbers in Gaza and on the West Bank who were not refugees, but whose livelihoods had been disrupted or were simply malnourished, managed to claim UNRWA rations. Thus the number of those whom the UNRWA called "alleged relief recipients" in 1949 when added to the non-refugee population was considerably more than the actual population (Peretz, 1958), although the numbers the UNRWA estimated for actual refugees, 726,000 in 1949, are very close to the 718,000 figure given above.
Ironically, as the social situation calmed and the UNRWA was able to take better statistics, the data became less valuable for estimation of total Palestinian numbers because it excluded so many Palestinians-those who were not recipients.
Nevertheless, the record of those supported by UNRWA has value in itself, and a representative set of statistics is given in Table 3. Note what may be a progressively larger over count of actual refugees.
The 1997 Palestine Census listed 393,375 in the West Bank and 640,140 in Gaza who identified themselves as "registered refugees," considerably fewer than the UNRWA figures.
Migration After 1948
After 1948, Palestinian high fertility and the limited economic potential of the land led to out migration. The West Bank, in particular, had sizable out-migration from 1948 to 1967. The population of the West Bank from 1950 to 1960
(Table 1) demonstrates this phenomenon: If all the 765,000 residents in 1950 had remained in the West Bank, their high fertility would have meant a population of 1 million in 1960, but the population was actually 799,000. The "missing" Palestinians were out-migrants.
The nature of Palestinian migration changed radically after 1948. No longer a small-scale migration to Europe and the Americas, emigration was now large-scale and directed mainly to the Arab world. Emigration usually involved two steps: First refugees went to the West Bank or Gaza, then on to other regions for economic reasons. Most migrants from the West Bank went to the East Bank. Improving economic conditions on the East Bank and Jordanian citizenship made the East Bank an attractive target area for the migration of unskilled labor. While the West Bank had a higher standard of living than the East Bank until 1948, Jordanian development policies, which overwhelmingly favored the East Bank, ensured that the West Bank became relatively impoverished. High levels of .population growth could only be supported by industrialization, and what industrialization existed was directed to the East Bank. The unemployed from the West Bank naturally went East. Palestinian skilled labor went all over the Arab world and on to Europe and the Americas, taking advantage of opportunities that were unavailable to the unskilled. Kuwait is the most well-known example ofpost-1948 migration.
Approximately 40,000 Palestinians resided in Kuwait in 1960, more than 300,000 in 1990. Figures from Saudi Arabia are imprecise, but they indicate an even faster growth of Palestinian population, from very few in the early 1960s to more than 200,000 in 1990. The nature of this out migration, the quest for work, is demonstrated by the sex ratio of the populations both in Palestine and in the target countries. Women outnumbered men by approximately 2 percent in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian males outnumbered Palestinian females by 10-15 percent in Arabian Peninsula countries.
Migration rates from Gaza were much lower than from the West Bank. Until the 1960s the Egyptian government restricted immigration. During the 1948 war, Egypt initially had accepted Palestinian refugees in Egypt proper, but soon changed its policy. Palestinians in Egypt were encouraged to go to the West Bank and emigration from Gaza was restricted. In effect, only those Gazans who possessed marketable skills, a very limited number, were allowed to work in Egypt.
The Israeli government has published statistics on emigration from the West Bank and Gaza. However, there is confusion over questions such as who was an emigrant and whether the emigration was "permanent." The Israeli authorities registered a yearly average of 12,934 more emigrants than immigrants from the West Bank and Gaza from 1967 to 1986. The excess of emigrants was much larger in some years; the highest figures were 25,200 in 1967, 48,200 in 1968, 23,880 in 1980, and 23,376 in 1981. These figures obviously have omitted many migrants, in particular large numbers of refugees in 1967, and their reliability must be questioned.
Table 1 and Table 4, Until the 1948 war, almost 100 percent of the Palestinians lived in Palestine. Only 67 percent lived in Palestine in 1960, 52 percent in 1970, and 45 percent in 1990.
The second major Palestinian migration came as a result of Israeli conquest of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. From the Israeli occupation to 1970, nearly 50,000 Palestinians left Gaza. Judged on the basis of the emigration rates from 1960 to 1967, 35,000 would normally have emigrated for economic reasons from June 1967 to 1970. This leaves 15,000 who can be considered to be "extra migrants" or forced refugees. (Larger numbers are often given for forced migration from Gaza, but these usually include both the economic migrants who would normally have left in any case and many who had already migrated from Gaza before the 1967 war and were unable to return because of the Israeli presence.)
The West Bank suffered much worse from tQe
Israeli occupation. Approximately 825,000 Palestinians lived in the West Bank in June 1967. When the Israeli government took a census of the West Bank in September 1967, it recorded 664,000 (including East Jerusalem); 161,000 Palestinians, 20 percent of the population, had gone. Perhaps 20,000 more migrated between September 1967 and 1970. As was the case with the 1948 refugees, these figures are approximate. The actual number of refugees may have been slightly higher or lower.
As a result of events surrounding the Gulf crisis and war, the major part of the Palestinian population of Lebanon migrated, mainly to Jordan. Only approximately 30,000 Palestinians remained in Kuwait in 2000.
Palestinians in the World
Many of the figures in Table 4 are necessarily estimates. For the year 2000, figures for Lebanon, the Gulf States, and "other" are less reliable than others, because of lack of accurate census counts and high migration. For the Arab world outside of Palestine in 1990 and 2000, the figures are primarily drawn from the detailed analysis made by the U .S. Census Center for International Research in 1991. Figures for the West Bank and Gaza for 1990 and 2000 are projected from the 1997 Palestinian census (see Table 5).
"Economic" migration continued at a high level through the 1970s, then declined in the 1980s. The decrease was primarily due to worsened economic conditions in the Gulf countries and Jordanian laws restricting immigration. Emigration thus no longer functioned as a safety valve for high fertility .Low emigration conditions continued into the 1990s.
There is debate over Israeli statistics that showed greatly lessened emigration, but there is no doubt that emigration is much lower than at earlier times.
Beset by their own problems with overpopulation, the countries surrounding Palestine are unlikely to accept renewed immigration. Unless political and economic conditions change drastically, it is also unlikely that the Gulf States will much increase their draw of skilled Palestinian labor.
Within the West Bank and particularly in Gaza diminished migration has exacerbated an already bad demographic situation. It is difficult to see how the agricultural or industrial base of Palestine can cope with the increased numbers that will result from high Palestinian fertility .Population density in the West Bank went from 52 per square mile (135 per square kilometer) in 1950 to 73 per square mile (190 per square kilometer) in 1990. The population density of Gaza, already great at 255 per square mile (660 per square kilometer) in 1950, was 660 per square mile (1,710 per square kilometer) in 1990. By comparison, the population densities of the Netherlands and England in 1990 were approximately 139 persons per square mile (360 per square kilometer). Possessing neither the agricultural potential nor the economic base of either the Netherlands or England, Palestine can expect a demographic crisis.
The census taken by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics was partially a de jure enumeration. It included students and others who had been away from Palestine for a year or less, as reported by other members of their households. About 325,253 nonresident Palestinians were included. It is thus not strictly comparable with the other data in the article, which are de
jure counts of only those actually in residence on the date of the census or estimate.
Palestinians in 1970, 1990, and 2000 by Country of Residence (De Facto Population)
Sources: Author's calculations, based on national censuses, PLO, 1983, Kossaifi, 1980; U.S. Census, 1991; PCBS, 1997.
The Palestine Census of 1997
|DISTRICT||MALE||FEMALE||BOTH SEXES||SEX RATIO|
|Ramallah & al-Bira||106,988||106,594||213,582||100.4|
* includes population counted during the period of 10-24/12/1997, uncounted
population estimates according to post enumeration survey and population
estimates for these parts of Jerusalem annexed by Israel in 1967
It should be NOTED that Palestinians in Jordan went through similar demographic and life expectancy growth, click here for more detail from UNDP.
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- Village Statistics Project
- Palestine Census of 1931 (in PDF Format / 30MB size)
- Zionist FAQ: By the turn of the 20th century, Palestine was empty and its was inhabited mostly with a nomads
- Zionist FAQ: Palestine was a destitute place until Israelis made its desert bloom