Palestinian census: 4.7 million in West Bank and Gaza Strip
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Palestinian census: 4.7 million in West Bank and Gaza Strip

Figures dovetail with Israeli military’s assessment implying looming parity between Jewish and Arab populations in Holy Land

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

Palestinian women take part in a yoga class at the women's first yoga center in Gaza City on March 28, 2018 (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Palestinian women take part in a yoga class at the women's first yoga center in Gaza City on March 28, 2018 (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has risen from 2,895,683 in 1997 to 4,780,978 in 2017, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday.

The figures are based on a census conducted by the PCBS over the past three years, with funding from the Palestinian Authority government, the Norwegian Representative Office to Ramallah, the Swedish International Development Agency, the Netherlands Representative Office (to Ramallah), the Spanish Agency for International Development, the European Union and the Japanese government.

PCBS President Ola Awad, who announced the preliminary results of the census during a press conference in Ramallah, said that the total number of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip was 1,899,291.

In the West Bank, there were 2,881,687 Palestinians by the end of 2017, she said.

The total number of Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was 1,980,490, according to the census results, Odeh said.

The census, she said, was conducted in 613 population communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She said that the census found that there were 435,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

Israeli authorities had banned the PCBS from conducting its census in Arab neighborhoods and villages located within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority considers several villages and neighborhoods located outside the Jerusalem municipal boundaries in Area B as being part of its “Jerusalem District.”

Odeh did not say how the PCBS obtained the figures related to the Palestinians living within the Jerusalem municipal boundaries.

She pointed out that the birth rate among Palestinian women had dropped from seven in 1997 to less than five in 2017.

The census, she said, found that 97.9 percent of the Palestinians were Muslims, while the Christian population was estimated at less than 1%. Odeh attributed the continued decrease in the Christian population to emigration. In 1948, she noted, the Christians made up one-third of the Palestinian population.

The census found that the number of Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank, which is under exclusive Israeli control, was 393,163.

According to the preliminary results of the census, the rate of unemployment in the Gaza Strip is estimated at 48% compared to 13% in the West Bank. Half of the unemployed are university graduates, the results showed.

Odeh said that the census was the fruit of three years of work by the PCBS in which more than 11,000 Palestinians participated. About 85% of those employed by the PCBS to conduct the census were females, she added.

Head of the PA Statistics Authority Ola Awad (L) presents the preliminary results of the general census of population, housing and establishments, in Ramallah, in the West Bank on March 28, 2018. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

Earlier this week, a quarrel erupted during an emergency meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee when the deputy head of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), Uri Mendes, said that around 3 million Palestinians were living in the West Bank, on top of the more than 2 million residing in the Gaza Strip.

His assessment was based on Palestinian population registry, Mendes said, noting that the figure did not include Israeli Arabs or Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

Committee members were quick to add the roughly 5 million Palestinians to the 1.5 million Arabs living in Israel and noted the implication — that the Jewish and Arab/Palestinian populations had almost reached parity and that the Jewish majority between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River is only razor-thin.

MK Mordechai Yogev of the pro-Jewish settler party Jewish Home charged that the Palestinian Authority was lying about the figures. “The report of five million Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is inaccurate, to say the least,” he said, accusing the PA of recording “ten times more” registrations of births in the West Bank than of deaths.

To the left of center, MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) used the figures to argue on Twitter that it was time Israelis understood the implications of demographic parity. “If we do not wake up from the delusions of annexation [of the West Bank, as advocated by the Israeli right wing], we will lose the Jewish majority. It’s simple.”

Israel’s leading demographics expert defended the military figures indicating the number of Arabs will soon equal that of Jews in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Sergio DellaPergola, a demographer from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, said the numbers of Arabs and Jews are nearly equal when you factor in the population of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem along with the population of Israel.

DellaPergola said that there are currently about 6.9 million Jews in the Holy Land — including Israel and the Palestinian territories — compared to 6.5 million Arabs. He said the gap was likely to be closed completely within 15-20 years.

“These are the figures. You can either accept them or not,” he told The Associated Press. “For some, it may be uncomfortable so they say they are inaccurate but truthfully that is quite childish.”

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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