In defiance of Israel’s critics and conventional wisdom, the highest-ever Arab population growth rate in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) occurred during Israel’s full control of the area (1967-1992).
From the end of 1967 (586,000 people) until the end of 1992 (1,050,000 people), the Arab population of Judea and Samaria expanded by 79 percent, compared to a mere 0.9 percent growth during the 1950-1967 Jordanian rule.
The unprecedented population growth was the outcome of the unprecedented Israeli development of health, medical, transportation, education and employment infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, following the stagnation during the Jordanian occupation of the area. In addition, Israel offered employment opportunities, in its pre-1967 core, to Judea and Samaria Arabs, who preferred working in Israel to the distant Arab Gulf states, West Africa or Latin America.
As a result of the enhanced infrastructure, especially health and medical, Arab infant mortality was drastically reduced—and life expectancy surged—almost to the Israeli level. Furthermore, emigration was substantially curtailed due to new opportunities for employment and higher education.
Hence, while net emigration during the 17 years of Jordan’s control (1950-1967) was 28,000 annually, it subsided to 7,000 annually during the 25 years of Israel’s full control (1967-1992).
The exceptionally high Arab population growth rate during Israel’s full control of Judea and Samaria was highlighted by the 170 percent growth of the 25-34 age group, which is the group typically responsible for the bulk of emigration. That they stayed attested to Israel’s unprecedented development of employment opportunities for Arabs.
Compared to an Arab population growth rate of merely 0.9 percent during Jordan’s rule—when the number of births was almost offset by net emigration—there was a 2.2 percent average annual population growth rate during Israel’s rule. Moreover, 1990 and 1991 featured 4.5 percent and 5.1 percent population growth rates, respectively.
Arguably, the surge of the Arab population growth was misperceived by the demographic establishment, which projected continued growth, ignoring the “pre-fall-surge” syndrome. The latter characterizes the population growth rates of Third World societies, whenever integrated into Western world societies.
When a Third World population is integrated into a Western one, it benefits from a considerable modernization of infrastructure, which triggers a surge in fertility rate (and reduced infant mortality) and a drop in emigration. But the surge in population growth lasts for one generation, before falling due to modernization/Westernization, as evidenced in Judea and Samaria:
• Massive urbanization (from 75 percent rural in 1967 to 77 percent urban in 2021);
• Most girls complete high school and increasingly pursue higher education;
• Reduced teen pregnancy and substantial use of contraceptives (70 percent);
• Larger female participation in the job market;
• Rising marriage age for women, from 15 years old to 22 and up;
• Shorter reproductive period, from 16-55 years old to 23-45 years old;
• Higher divorce rate and youth emigration;
• Bottom Line: Nine births per Arab woman in the 1960s; 3.02 births in 2021.
Why is Israel’s Jewish fertility rate thriving?
Jewish demography has been impacted by the Israeli state of mind, which is heavy on optimism, faith, patriotism, attachment to roots, collective responsibility and the centrality of children. Israeli Jews have a frontier mentality, in the face of Jewish history and contemporary existential threats in the stormy, violently intolerant, unpredictable and anti-“infidel” Middle East.
Unlike the generally pessimistic and less patriotic European state of mind—which has produced an extremely low fertility rate of 1.5 babies per woman (2.1 is required to sustain an existing level of the population)—Israel’s left and right, doves and hawks, secular and religious, wealthy and poor sectors of the Jewish population embrace the Zionist vision to buttress the Jewish state. They consider children (3.09 per woman) as a means to enrich their own lives and secure the civilian and military future of the Jewish state.
This state of mind has catapulted Israel to lead the 34 OECD countries in fertility and population growth rates, in addition to the percentage of youth under the age of 15 (28 percent of the population), and the percentage of immigrants (23 percent of the population). Israel’s Jewish fertility rate is the highest among the top 100 developed countries in the world.
Moreover, Israel’s Jewish fertility rate (twice the OECD average) is unique in the world with regard to its positive correlation between the level of education and income, on the one hand, and the number of children per woman on the other. Also, Jewish women have sustained their relatively high fertility rate irrespective of their increasing marriage age.
It is customary for a secular, urban, highly-educated, high-income and over-30 working (yuppie) Israeli Jewish woman to have three to four children. Since 1995, the secular sector has played the key role in Israel’s Jewish demographic momentum: a 68 percent rise of the annual Jewish births from 80,400 in 1995 to 134,866 in 2020, compared to a 16 percent rise of the annual Israeli Arab births, from 36,500 in 1995 to 42,435 in 2020.
Israel’s demographic momentum has evolved despite the moderate decrease of the ultra-Orthodox fertility rate—caused by the expansion of the ultra-Orthodox participation in the job market (especially women) and higher education—and due to the non-conventional surge of secular fertility.
While the ultra-Orthodox fertility rate has decreased from 7.5 births per woman (in 2000) to 6.5 births (in 2020), it is still—by far—the highest fertility rate in Israel. This is the result of the ultra-Orthodox Torah-driven worldview, which highlights children as a source of divine joy and critical obligation.
The ultra-Orthodox state of mind underscores procreation, as stated in Genesis 1:28: “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply … .” It underscores God’s blessing of Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens (Genesis 15:5), and the firm belief in Maimonides’ assertion: “For one who adds a soul to Israel is as though he built a whole world … .”
Israel’s unique secular and religious fertility rate reflects the sturdy state of mind of the Jewish state in the stormy Middle East, a most challenging region of the world.
Israel’s robust demography refutes the assertion that its Jewish majority is threatened by a supposed Arab demographic time bomb. In fact, well-documented demographic data, since 1900, suggest that policy-makers and public opinion molders who make such assertions are either dramatically mistaken or outrageously misleading.
Finally, the uniquely optimistic demography of the Jewish state reflects the unique qualities of the Jewish people, which have enabled them to overcome calamities, such as physical destruction, exiles, pogroms, the Holocaust and systemic anti-Semitism.
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.
This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.