Skip to comments.Birth rate works against Israel
Posted on 05/05/2002 8:21:56 AM PDT by Dog Gone
JERUSALEM -- Ensconced in his living room deep within an East Jerusalem refugee camp, Shaher Hassan contentedly cradles what many consider the Palestinians' greatest weapon against Israel.
The 1-year-old boy bounces on Hassan's lap and smiles with delight as his seven brothers and sisters gather around.
"I like children," says Hassan, 33, one of 12 siblings himself. "I want to see children around me."
But Hassan's pleasure may prove Israel's peril, many Palestinians hope and Israelis fear.
Large families such as Hassan's mean that Palestinian population growth in the coming decades likely will far outstrip that of the Israelis on lands between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which includes Israel proper as well as the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The future of this long-contested sliver of land, many on both sides of the conflict argue, may well be decided by babies rather than bullets.
Outnumbered, if hardly outgunned, their logic holds, the Israelis will face stark choices.
If Israel tries to maintain control of the occupied territories, its Jewish population would be overwhelmed by a much larger number of Palestinians, they say in offering a rationale for creating an independent Palestinian state.
Should Israel formally annex the West Bank and Gaza, as some Israelis have demanded, they add, the country would remain a Jewish state only by denying voting and other rights to its Palestinian residents.
Unless an independent Palestine is created, these critics warn, Israel could lose its Jewishness, its democracy or both, tumbling the pillars upon which Israel was founded in 1948.
"This is the crisis facing the state of Israel," says Mahdi Abdul-Hadi, director of Passia, a Palestinian think tank in East Jerusalem. "Is it to be an apartheid system, a Jewish minority ruling a majority of non-Jews?"
Already, the population gap between Israeli Jews and mostly Islamic, Palestinian Arabs is quickly narrowing on the lands between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. With their population expanding by as much as 6 percent annually, Palestinians seem certain to overwhelm the Jewish population, which is growing by barely 1 percent a year.
Within 18 years, according to Israeli demographer Arnon Soffer, Jews will make up little more than 42 percent of the 15.5 million people living in the region.
Today, 450,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements deep inside the West Bank and Gaza or in the mostly Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, accounting for only about 13 percent of the population in those areas, which Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six Day War.
About half the 3 million Palestinians residing in those territories are younger than 15.
Within Israel proper, Arabs -- now about 15 percent of the country's 5.8 million people -- will make up nearly a fifth of the population in 2020, according to projections by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.
In his demographic study released last year, Soffer warned that the growing Palestinian population, if left mired in poverty and relegated to second-class status, could threaten Israeli security.
"Such an embittered population is dangerous, and it is reasonable to assume it will turn to extremist measures, from terror to holy war," Soffer wrote.
In warning of a Palestinian population bomb, Soffer also saw threats to Israel's economic prosperity and fragile environment.
"The trends and indicators all point to an economic and ecological catastrophe waiting to happen and of the death knell of the ideological dream of a Jewish state," Soffer told the Jerusalem Post, a conservative English-language daily, last summer.
That reasoning has led some Israelis to seek radical solutions.
Many on the political left advocate "unilateral separation" -- abandoning the West Bank and Gaza to allow the creation of a Palestinian state there and building a solid fence to control Palestinian access to Israel.
"We believe that separation into two states following an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 border is an issue of Israeli survival as a Jewish and democratic state, and not only of the fulfillment of legitimate Palestinian national rights," says Didi Remez, a spokesman for the leftist pacifist group Peace Now.
For Israel, Remez says, "the only rational solutions are a return to the 1967 borders or ethnic cleansing."
Some Israeli conservatives advocate "transferring" Palestinians to the other side of the Jordan River. Others favor allowing Palestinians to stay in the occupied territories but denying them the right to vote in order to keep political power.
Many factors feed the Palestinian population explosion. As in many traditional societies, large numbers of children, especially sons, are valued as both a source of pride and an economic boon.
But for years now -- and, some say, especially during the past 19 months of bloody conflict with Israel -- procreation has had political as well as practical motivations. If Palestinians couldn't defeat the U.S.-armed Israelis militarily, this thinking holds, they could overwhelm them with sheer numbers.
"It's a time bomb," says Khaled Nabris, a Palestinian economist who works on development projects. "From a nationalist point of view, people declined to practice birth control."
Perhaps nowhere is the belief in conception as a political tool more deeply held than in crowded refugee camps such as Shufat in East Jerusalem, where Hassan and 20,000 other people live. Nearly everyone there harbors the dream of one day reclaiming lost land and houses in Israel.
"One hundred years ago, when a disease came to a village, half the people died," says Mohammed Nofal, 55, a father of seven.
"Now our disease is Israel," he says. "If it kills half the population, we will still have the other half and our freedom."
That message has long been pushed, albeit unofficially, by Palestinian political and religious leaders, some say.
Women's rights activists recall with anger a visit that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat made to Bethlehem's teeming Deheisheh refugee camp in 1996. Have 12 children, they say Arafat told them, two for themselves and 10 for the Palestinian struggle.
Today, birthrates in the camps rank among the Palestinians' highest, with families of seven the norm and 12 or more children common, census figures show.
Faced with economic troubles wrought by the ongoing political crisis, some couples opt for fewer children, Palestinian health workers say.
Yet because people are living longer, the population growth rate has not slowed.
Palestinian neighborhoods, particularly in the refugee camps that account for 40 percent of the population in the West Bank and Gaza, teem with young life.
Despite the crowded conditions, Shaher Hassan and many other refugees remain undaunted. There will be room enough, many of them say, once they return to the land their families lost inside Israel 54 years ago.
"When we all lived on the land, we had many children to help with the work," says Nofal, the father of seven.
"Now the land is gone. I have six boys -- two for me and four for the struggle. I want to take the land back."
Rabbi Kahane Z"tl pointed out this problem in the 70s and he came up with the idea that the Arabs must go!
Arafat is a SICK piece of garbage who advocates raising childen to blow themselves up and be used as ammunition!
Does the thought of strong, non guilt ridden Jews upset you?
Not really. Among the other rational solutions is to annex 20% of the west bank closest to 1948 borders.
Or, to forestall the demographic trends, annex all of the west bank and leave Gaza to be the Palestinian state. There are 1.2 million Palestinians in Gaza... such a move would set back these demographic trends by decades or longer. Not that I necessarily advocate these moves, just that things are don't have to be black and white, all or nothing.
It's demographically impossible.
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