The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Affairs and Security in Judea and Samaria on Tuesday took a stab at figuring out just how many Arabs live in eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, where in the latter two no one has taken a scientific census in ages, and the numbers appear to be skewed according to the political leanings of the different sources.
Lies, Damned Lies, and PA Census Data
The CIA World Factbook, updated July 2015, estimates there are 2,785,366 “Palestinians” living in those three areas, a.k.a. the “West Bank.” The Knesset subcommittee’s discussion suggested this figure is more than a little inflated.
Subcommittee Chairman MK Mordhay Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) opened the debate saying “this is our second discussion of this issue, and we’d like to focus on data regarding Area C which is our responsibility. When I served as Ephraim Brigade Commander, over a period of one year, we executed an accurate count of all the residents in the sector, including Tulkarm and Qalqilya. The State of Israel possesses the needed means to find out, and the State of Israel must find out what is the number of residents for whom it is responsible, and about whom it would have to reach future decisions.”
Head of the Operations Directorate of the Civil Administration Lt. Col. Eyal Zeevi began his part by stressing that the civil administration does not engage in demographic studies, and that the responsibility for that in all of Judea and Samaria belongs to the Palestinian Authority, according to the 1995 interim agreement between Israel and the PA. In that context Zeevi explained that the PA demographic data does not offer specific Area C-related figures. However, Avi Gur-Ari, Population Administration officer in the Civil Administration clarified that he does maintain reliable testing of the data received from the PA.
This came as a surprise to the chairman, who requested that the entire PA census, including the data for Area C, be given to his subcommittee, noting that since the data includes the names of individual communities it should be feasible to discern those communities that are included in Area C.
Zeevi said it wasn’t as simple as that, because some of the Arab villages are split between Area C and neighboring, PA-governed Areas A and B. Other villages border the Jerusalem municipality. “With all due respect for the chairman, I don’t think it can be done in the suggested schedule. To do this professionally would require time and resources, which the political echelon has not yet decided to allocate.”
Once in the Roll, Always on the Roll
Zeevi shared some of the most common problems with the Palestinian Authority census: for one thing, a resident who leaves the PA remains listed as a resident; and these residents are able to visit, register their children and return abroad. Zeevi estimates that as many as 15,000 residents are added to the PA census this way annually.
“The immigration data presented today is partial and pertains only to the Allenby bridge border crossing into Jordan,” Zeevi added, estimating that “over the past 15 years more than 175 thousand have left through the crossing and never returned.”
According to Zeevi, the registered Arab population who carry Palestinian ID cards in Judea and Samaria, not including eastern Jerusalem, is 2.63 million. He believes that with the current growth rate coefficient in 2020 there will be 3.28 million and by 2030 there will be more than 4 million Arabs in all of Judea and Samaria.
According to Avi Lekach from the Population and Immigration Authority, in eastern Jerusalem there are at least 300 thousand Arab residents. David Koren, a consultant to the Jerusalem Mayor, noted that while there are 316 thousand registered Arab residents in Jerusalem, there may be as many as 60 thousand Arabs from the PA who are seeking residency in Jerusalem as part of family reunions.
Italian-born Israeli demographer and statistician Prof. Sergio Della Pergola told the subcommittee that he believes there are some 2.4 Arab residents in Judea and Samaria today, and that the Jewish majority in all of Eretz Israel is only about 52% — which includes people who identify as Jewish but halakhically are not. In his opinion, the halakhically Jewish majority is long gone.
But former Ambassador Yoram Ettinger cited his own research which found that the birthrate balance has switched and that today’s Jewish birthrate is higher than the Arab. Ettinger also said that his research showed that by the end of 2015 there were only 1.75 million Arabs in Judea and Samaria.
Analyzing PA Eligible Voter Data Implies Even Lower Numbers
Back in 2013, Middle East analyst Dr. Guy Bechor cited the number of eligible PA voters in the 2012 local elections — 515 thousand — setting it as the number of adults 18 and older. If we add to it an identical number of people ages 0-18, we’ll get a little more than one million. Add the maximum figure of eastern Jerusalem Arabs and you’ll get a generous estimate of only 1.4 million Arabs. The number of Jews, incidentally, is comprised of 385 thousand in Judea and Samaria and 300 thousand in eastern Jerusalem, or close to 700 thousand in total.
MK Hilik Bar (Zionist Camp-Labor) said it was shameful that Israel does not know how many Arabs actually live in Area C. “We know how many Syrian tanks there are, but not how many civilians are living under our care,” he said, suggesting that whether Area C becomes part of Israel or is handed over to the PA, “we should know how many potential Arab citizens we’ll have in the state.”