In Israel, Who’s New? Everybody.

Many items in the Middle East are subject to positioning and posturing.   People point to paragraphs in the papers and argue whether the piece has an Israeli or Palestinian perspective. Rarely does the news provide analysis or education for its readers. Instead, it rehashes the political leanings of its editorial board and applies it to the story of the day. How often does a reader put down a paper and say: “Who knew?”

Here is a review of “Who’s New” and the misrepresentation of the facts in the media. Note that statistics, while often easily distorted, can still say a lot. In an area like the Middle East, it is amazing that they are rarely discussed.

A common narrative (which has merit) is that Jews came to Israel en masse after the English took control of the entire region of Palestine (which includes today’s Jordan). That statement, however, is incomplete.

  1. Jews have always lived in Palestine
  2. Jews moved to Palestine in great numbers under the Ottomans
  3. Muslims did not move to Palestine under the Ottomans

In 1800, there were approximately 7,000 Jews in the region of Palestine. It is not a big number, and they accounted for about 3% of the population at that time.

Between 1800 and 1890, the population of Jews jumped to 57,000, then accounting for 8% of the population. Their numbers continued to grow under the Ottomans, with an estimated 94,000 Jews in 1914, or 14% of the population.

The population of Muslims and Christians during these time intervals barely moved. The Muslim population grew 113% over those 114 years, or a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 0.7%. That is roughly the rate of natural growth (births minus deaths) which suggests that NO Muslims moved to Palestine for 114 years of Ottoman rule.

The Christian population grew at twice the rate of Muslims – 218% (vs. 113% for Muslims). To say that all of those Christians were Arabs would be surprising as one would expect the growth rate of both groups of Arabs to be roughly the same.

The Jewish growth in the region over the last 114 years of Ottoman rule was 1,243% – many multiples of Muslims and Christians. It clearly did not take the Balfour declaration in 1917 to get Jews to move to Palestine. They were historically (pre-1914) the only group who did move there.

4.  Arabs moved to Palestine in greater numbers than Jews during the British Mandate

Say that again?

While the common Arab narrative is that Jews came to Palestine under the British to do a “land grab”, and all of the Arabs were living in Palestine for centuries, the statistics do not support the claim.

For Jews, the Third Aliyah (1919-1923) brought about 40,000 Jews and the Fourth Aliyah (1924-1928) another 80,000 Jews to Palestine. About 15,000 Jews left Palestine due to the economic hardship at that time, meaning a total of about 105,000 Jews immigrated over the decade. The Fifth Aliyah was the most dramatic (1929-1939), bringing about 250,000 Jews. The Arab riots of 1936-9 basically shut down Jewish immigration to 75,000 people, so in total there were about 420,000 Jews who moved to Israel under the British.

The Arab narrative completely ignores the mass immigration of Arabs that happened under the British. From 1914 to 1949 (after the Israel War of Independence), the Muslim population grew to 1.18 million. That means that after over a century of 0.7% growth (and even lower 0.6% annual growth in 1890-1914), the Muslim population jumped to 2.3% annual growth. Put another way, the Muslim population was 540,000 people larger in 1949 than one would have assumed using all historical norms. So while the Arabs may point to the roughly 420,000 Jews who migrated from Europe, Russia and Yemen, they deliberately ignore the half of a million Muslims who moved from Egypt, Iraq and around the Middle East to Palestine under the British.

So who was new to Israel/Palestine? Who moved there under the British Mandate? Everybody. About 540,000 Muslims, 60,000 Christians and 420,000 Jews.

Which is all fine and good. But it is a lie to state that all Palestinian Arabs lived in their homes for centuries and Jews were “colonialists” brought by the British. There were more Muslims that moved to Palestine between 1914 and 1949 than Jews.

Consider further that the figures above net out over 300,000 Arabs that left Israel during the 1948 War to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, which would suggest that Muslim immigration was twice that of Jewish immigration under the British.


Who knew?

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