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Conflict 101: Palestine's Population During The Ottoman and The British Mandate Periods, 1800 - 1948

By Justin McCarthy

Total Population

The Problem of Identity

The evaluation of Palestinian population presents unique difficulties. Foremost of these is a lack of data. However, a more fundamental problem is one of defining the Palestinians. The ultimate definition of nationality is personal. Those who consider themselves to be Palestinians are Palestinians. The only real measure of "national identity" is self-identification, not legal citizenship. Unfortunately, self-identification seldom is reflected in population statistics. Instead, demographers have information on categories such as place of birth, citizenship, and mother tongue. No population registrar in the Ottoman Empire, the Palestine Mandate, Jordan, or Israel ever asked a census question on national self-identification. The Ottomans did not even consider the possibility of such a question; the others did not want to know.
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

Um Hazem holds up the keys she says belonged to her original home in Bayt Nabala
Population data on the Ottoman Palestinians are limited, but they are sufficient to provide reasonable approximations of total population. There are scant Ottoman data on important statistics, such as age of marriage, fertility, and mortality, although mortality and fertility rates have been estimated through the use of demographic techniques. Mandate figures, although often imprecise, are much better, because they are much more detailed. They allow accurate estimations of mortality, fertility, migration, and other demographic variables. The most valuable data on population in the Mandate period come from the census taken by the British in 1931. Not only does it provide the sort of data needed for accurate demographic calculation (such as, population by single ages), but the statistics are more reliable than any others taken in Ottoman or Mandate times. The breadth of statistics in the 1931 census approaches that of censuses taken in Western Europe or the United States during the same period, even if it is not quite as accurate. Another Mandate census, that of 1922, is both less accurate and less detailed, and thus is of less value.

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.

Palestinian Refugees on their way to Lebanon, Oct. 1948.
Enumerating Palestinian numbers after 1948 is a difficult proposition. In order to know the numbers of any population accurately, the population must be counted, and the Palestinians outside Israel's borders were counted poorly and sporadically. Often, Palestinians arrived in countries, including most of those in the Middle East immediately after 1948, which did not take accurate censuses. Political situations made the picture all the more obscure. Some countries that did count their population fairly accurately did not wish to distinguish between native and Palestinian populations.

Some who estimated the Palestinian population greatly over- or underestimated numbers in accordance with the estimators' political intentions.
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.

Figures for 1860 to 1914 in 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).

Jaffa National Christian Orthodox School (1938)
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.

Table 1

Palestinian Population, 1860-2000 (thousands)

1860 411 411
1890 553 533
1914 738 738
1918 689 ** 689
1931 860 860
1940 1,086 1,086
1946 1,308 1,308
1950 1,170 of which 165 765 240 304 1,474
1960 1,340 239 799 302 647 1,987
1970 1,412 367 677 368 1,289 2,701
1980 1,992 531 964 497 2,100 4,092
1990 2,731 687 1,373 671 3,302 6,033
2000 3,787 919 1,836 1,032 4,667 8,454

* including East Jerusalem
** population drop was caused by WW I and the famine which followed


Jaffa's fishermen in 1870
Since the middle of the nineteenth century, and probably long before, the proportion of children born to the Palestinian Arabs-their fertility-has been among the highest recorded for any population. The average number of children born to a Palestinian woman who lived through her childbearing years (the total fertility rate [TFR]) was slightly more than 7. The high fertility of Palestinians living in Palestine remained constant from Ottoman times until the late 1970s, when it began to diverge by regions. In the late 1970s, fertility among residents of the Gaza Strip actually began to rise, reaching more than an average of 7.6 children (TFR of 7.62) in 1979 before it decreased slightly. On the West Bank, fertility declined more rapidly. The Palestine Demographic Survey of 1995, found that the Gaza TFR. was 7.41, that of the West Bank, 5.44. In Israel, Palestinian fertility remained high until the 1970s, when it began to drop quickly, reaching a TFR of 4.9 in 1983 and 4.6 in 1989. The fertility of Palestinians in Israel remained at approximately that level in 2000.
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.

The Boys Scouts Of Jaffa al-Ameiryah High School In 1924
Despite changes in factors such as age of marriage, the Palestinian population will increase rapidly for generations. Even if Palestinians immediately and precipitously lowered their fertility, the population would still greatly increase.' This is due to the effect of past years of high fertility on the age structure. So many children were born in the past thirty years that the population necessarily will increase as these children have children themselves. In fact, there is little to indicate that the fertility of these children will drop precipitously. Even if Palestinian fertility in Gaza and on the West Bank were to fall very rapidly, the population would still double in less than thirty years.


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 Boys Scouts Of Jaffa al-Ameiryah High School In 1924
Despite the troubles of 1929 and 1936-39, the situation of civic calm and increased trade and industry generally continued and improved during the Mandate years. In addition, the Mandate period saw the advent of modem medicine. However, the effect of medical science on population growth in Palestine was slight until after World War II, when antibiotics diminished mortality. More important were improvements in sanitation, water supplies, and government-sponsored public health works. Consequently, dysentery and malaria both began to decrease markedly as causes of death.
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.

Jaffa's famous Clock tower
However, there seems to have been considerable variation in mortality rate among the Palestinians outside Palestine. Countries to which Palestinians emigrated seldom kept mortality statistics that separated Palestinian deaths from others. Demographers agree that after the 1960s Palestinian mortality generally followed the mortality level of the country in which they resided. In some countries, such as Kuwait, it may have been slightly worse; in others, such as Egypt, slightly better. This reflected the fact that the Palestinians generally had a lower standard of living than the Kuwaitis and a better standard than the average Egyptian.
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.

Table 2

Palestinian Mortality, 1860-2000

RATE* (/1,000)
1860 22 24 380 42
1914 30 32 290 32
1931 35 37 240 30
1940 37 39 220 28
1950 42 45 200 21
1960 58 62 50 9
1970 63 67 45 6
1980 65 70 40 5
1990 68 72 36 4
2000 76 78 10 3
West Bank &
1950 42 45 200 21
1960 43 46 190 20
1970 44 46 170 19
1980 56 60 100 10
1990 63 67 60 6
2000 70 74 27 4

* in one year, death of children under one divided by births


Who shall push who into the sea? Jaffa's Palestinian population boarding a ship escaping Israeli terror, May 1948
In the Ottoman and Mandate periods, migration was a minor factor in the demographic makeup of the Muslim and Christian (though obviously not the Jewish) population of Palestine. Although there was a certain amount of seasonal labor migration to and from Palestine, analysis of Ottoman statistics (McCarthy, 1990) yields evidence of little permanent migration of Arabs into or out of Palestine from 1860 to 1914. The number of Arabs who left Palestine on the Ottoman defeat in World War I was negligible.
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

The 1948 expulsion and flight of Palestinians were, by proportion of the population affected, among the largest forced migrations in modern Middle Eastern history. It affected approximately 53 percent of the Arab population of Palestine, 82 percent of the Arabs who resided in the portion of Palestine that became Israel.
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.

Table 3
Refugees Registered with UNRWA.

Jordan* 506,200 586,706 699,553 1,042,123 1,512,742 182,000 237,677 274,816
West Bank 321,722 472,473 569,741 82,299 124,307 153,380
Gaza 198,227 245,343 358,898 582,863 798,444 201,672 320,467 437,650
Lebanon 127,600 129,228 219,561 324,219 370,144 103,661 169,321 204,999
Syria 82,194 109,596 203,830 306,042 374,521 57,924 88,924 109,315
Israel ** 45,800
Total 960,021 1,070,783 1,803,564 2,727,820 3,625,592 627,956 904,696 1,118,160

* including West Bank in 1950 and 1959
** Jewish refugees
Sources: UNRWA, 1959; UNRWA, 1979; UNRWA, 1999; Peretz, 1958; Peretz, 1993;

UNRWA Statistics

Ayn Karem's Mosque (Matson Collection) 1900-1926
Statistics compiled by UNRWA are often applied to estimates of Palestinian population, particularly for the 1948 period. However, demographic use of the figures of the UNRWA presents insurmountable problems.
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.

Ayn Karem's 1924. Click the image to browse thousands of pre-Nakba images
Gazans who wished to emigrate to other Arab countries had to both pay an exit tax and obtain a residence visa from the Arab country to which they wished to emigrate, neither of which was often possible. The situation eased considerably in the 1960s, but emigration remained under West Bank levels. Neither the Gaza Palestinians nor the Egyptians wished Egypt to formally annex the Gaza Strip, as Jordan had annexed the West Bank. Therefore, unskilled workers did not possess an open market for their labor, one of the few benefits afforded the West Bank Palestinians by Jordan.
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.

The extent of Palestinian emigration is perhaps best understood from the numbers of Palestinians inside and outside Palestine in 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

The bridge that goes above railroad leading to the oil refinery, Haifa 1927. Click the image to browse thousands of pre-Nakba images
Because of their high fertility and emigration, Palestinians have become a more sizable population outside of Palestine than within. The proportion of Palestinians outside of the borders of Mandate Palestine has been increasing since 1948. After the mid-1970s, most Palestinians lived outside of Palestine. By 1990, almost 60 percent resided elsewhere.
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.

Indeed, after the Gulf War, an unknown amount of reverse migration to Palestine has occurred. Palestinian numbers outside of Palestine will continue to increase rapidly due to the effects of high fertility, but the relative proportion of Palestinians outside of Palestine probably will not continue to increase.

Threshing field in Isdud (Ashdod), 1938
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.

Table 4
Palestinians in 1970, 1990, and 2000 by Country of Residence (De Facto Population)

Gaza 368,000 13.6 671,000 11.1 1,032,000 12.2
W. Bank 677,000 25.1 1,373,000 22.7 1,836,000 21.7
Israel 367,000 13.6 687,000 11.3 919,000 10.9
Jordan 592,000 21.9 1,524,000 25.3 2,626,000 31.1
Lebanon 247,000 09.1 332,000 05.5 463,000 05.5
Syria 156,000 05.8 302,000 05.0 411,000 04.9
Egypt 33,000 01.2 40,000 00.7 48,000 00.6
Libya 10,000 00.4 28,000 00.5 37,000 00.4
Iraq 15,000 05.2 30,000 00.5 42,000 00.5
Kuwait 140,000 01.1 312,000 5.2 30,000 00.4
S. Arabia 31,00 01.1 206,000 03.4 299,000 03.5
Other Gulf 25,000 00.9 87,000 01.4 105,000 01.2
Other 40,000 01.5 441,000 07.3 606,000 07.2
TOTAL 2,701,000 100.00 6,033,000 100.00 8,454,000 100.00

Sources: Author's calculations, based on national censuses, PLO, 1983, Kossaifi, 1980; U.S. Census, 1991; PCBS, 1997.

Table 5
The Palestine Census of 1997

Jenin 103,407 99,619 203,026 103.8
Tubas 18,583 18,026 36,609 103.1
Tulkarm 67,781 66,329 134,110 102.2
Qalqilya 37,002 35,005 72,007 105.7
Salfit 24,695 23,843 48,358 103.6
Nablus 132,818 128,552 261,340 103.3
Ramallah & al-Bira 106,988 106,594 213,582 100.4
Jerusalem 166,001 162,600 328,601 102.1
Jericho 16,491 16,222 32714 101.7
Bethlehem 70,238 67,048 137,286 104.8
Hebron 207,689 197,975 405,664 104.9
West Bank 951,693 921,783 1,873,476 103.2
North Gaza 93,365 90,008 183,373 103.7
Gaza 186,970 180,418 367,338 103.6
Dayr Al-Balah 74,819 73,058 147,877 102.4
Khan Yunis 101,607 99,097 200,704 102.5
Rafah 62,052 60,097 122,865 102.0
Gaza Strip 518,813 503,394 1,022,207 103.1
Palestinian Territories 1,470,506 1,425,177 2,895,683 103.2

* 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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The above was quoted from Encyclopedia Of The Palestinians edited by Philip Mattar


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Post Your Comment

Essdeen the sources were at the bottom of the page. Also, I believe its an entire book which is very difficult to come by
Justin McCarthy, Thank you for the article and thank you for the bibliography. Could you please do one important thing and that it to put in text referencing. So important so we can share this with others and they accept its credibility. Thank you :-)
Because of the tremendous amounts of Arab violence against Jews of Palestine...the Peel Commission suggested the partition of Palestine into two states. The distribution of Muslims, Christians and Jews were ever changing due in part by the violence and politics of the time. Also, there was an influx of Muslim Arabs due to the economy that was created by the Zionist Jews.
I am older than the "state of Israel" .My elders have lived and worked with Palestinian Jews harmoniously . As a youngster I used to go especially with my father, who spoke Hebrew very fluently : reading and writing, on visits to his Jewish friends. But unfortunately the influx of settlers after the Balfour declaration, and terror masters like Yetzak Shamir, Menachem begin Ben Gurion Moshe Sharet and a long list of them had destroyed the fabric of that society.
The Ottoman census of 1878 indicated for the Jerusalem, Nablus, and Acre districts that Muslim population= 403,795= 85.5%; Christian=43,659=9.2%; Jewish=15,001=3.2%; Jewish (Foreign-born)= Est. 10,000=2.1%... It must be remebered that lost of Palestinians avoided the Turkish census for mainly these reasons: a) to avoid taxes, b) to avoid military conscription.
As non-Muslims were concerned there were better info about Jews then Christians, even though they were far more numerus (Gudrun Kramer).
In 1806 in Jerusalem there were 2,000 Jews; 4,000 Muslims; Christians 2,774(Sharkansky). In 1832: Jews=4,000; Muslims= 13,000; Christians=3,560(Kark and Oren-Nordheim).

Fine reading:
Remembering and Imagining Palestine by Haim Gerber
Hollow land israel's architecture of occupation by eyal weizman
Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal, Palestinians: The Making of a People
Greate article:
Heritage,Nationalism and the Shifting Symbolism of the Wailing Wall, by Simone Ricca
For a good start...
Please provide information on the method of Ottoman census taking BASED ON TAXATION: if people did not pay taxes, they were not counted. Doesn't common sense dictate that a poor family could hardly be expected to braodcast its presence? Therefore, how could anyone honestly provide accurate statistics?
Frank A. Walter
Jews were, in fact, the largest group in Jerusalem as of the Ottoman census of 1840, and evidently long before that. Jews were also the majority in Jerusalem 3000 years ago, when king David made it his capital. Jerusalem has been the holiest city to the Jews long before the Arab conquest of the 7th century C. E. and long before the Dome of the Rock was built.

Contrary to what you may have been told, there were Jews in the land of Israel before 1948, and before the founding of the Zionist movement in the 1890's.
According to Survey of Palestine Jews were majority in Jerusalem since 1840, how can that possibly be true? Can anyone explain this?
Thank you for this wealth of data. Can you please specify where exactly the population figures in Table 1 are sourced from. There is a long bibiliography at the end of this page, but it isn't clear where those particular figures are from. It sounds like the population data for different periods are for different sources, but perhaps you could specify a source for each of the lines in Table 1?

Thank you again for this important information.
thanks for the great site. where can i find details about the numbers of palestinians civilians killed / murderd / massacred by israeli forces in 48?
Thanks for this excellent paper. Where can I find the figures from 1800 till 1860? And especially about the territory which consists of the land of Israel nowadays?
Thank you for that big job, very useful for knowing what history is. Just one thing, you certainly inverted square miles and square kilometers in Gaza's population density.
Thank you for that big job, very useful for knowing what history is.
Inshallah one day the land of deprived palestinians will receive their mother land living with jewish people as before friendly. This can be happened until the jewish people can give their wrentch areas. And make the palestine a identity, so that the people of muslims and jewish can live peacely.
I want this documents for research purposes and for evidence of interest to support my write-ups. It could be noted otherwise to write on anything without journal support or citations. Some body must have to be quoted before intelligent minds agrees to, or disagree to decision.