EI EXCLUSIVE: Palestinian population exceeds Jewish population says U.S. government

The population of Palestinians living in Israel, the Occupied Gaza Strip, Occupied East Jerusalem and rest of the Occupied West Bank combined now exceeds the number of Israeli Jews, a U.S. government report has revealed.

The Palestinian population stands at over 5.3 million while the Jewish population stands at 5.2 million.

The figures come from the U.S. State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004. The report provided population figures for each of these territorial units separately but failed to connect all the dots to arrive at the explosive new demographic reality that an Israeli Jewish minority now rules over a larger number of Palestinians living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

The section on Israel and the Occupied Territories states that the population of Israel stands at 6.8 million, of whom 5.2 million are Jews, 1.3 million Arabs and another 290,000 are other minorities. The Arabs who are citizens of Israel are Palestinians who are survivors and descendants of those Palestinians who were not forced out of the country or fled when Israel was created.

In a 28 February telephone conversation, a State Department official confirmed that the figure of 6.8 million Israelis included all the Israeli settlers in the occupied territories.

The report then notes that the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip stands at approximately 1.4 million while in the West Bank it is approximately 2.4 million. There are 237,185 Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem.

Israeli demographers have long predicted that in the next several years, Palestinians would once again become a majority in all of historic Palestine, with the risk that Israel would begin to be viewed as an apartheid state where an empowered minority rules over an effectively disenfranchised majority. According to the U.S. government that day has already arrived.

2004 Jewish, Palestinian and Other Minorities’ Populations of Israel/Palestine, according to the U.S. State Department’s Country Reports On Human Rights Practices, 2004
Population Percentage*
Jewish 5,200,000 48%
Palestinian 5,337,185 49.3%
Other Minorities 290,000 2.7%
Total 10,827,185 100%
* Rounded to 1 significant figure.

In addition to continued, serious human rights abuses by Israel and by Palestinians as well, the State Department report details a number of laws and policies in Israel which resemble apartheid — a system of separate laws and rules for people of different races, religions or ethnicities in one country.

For example, the report points out that “the body of law governing Palestinians in the occupied territories derives from Ottoman, British Mandate, Jordanian, and Egyptian law, and Israeli military orders. Laws and regulations promulgated by the Palestinian Authority also are in force. Israeli settlers were subject [only] to Israeli law.”

And in Israel itself, the report highlights that “Approximately 93 percent of land in the country was public domain, including that owned by the state and some 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). All public land by law may only be leased, not sold. The JNF’s statutes prohibit the sale or lease of land to non-Jews. In October, civil rights groups petitioned the High Court of Justice claiming that a bid announcement by the Israel Land Administration (ILA) involving JNF land was discriminatory in that it banned Arabs from bidding. The ILA halted marketing JNF land in the North and the Galilee. In December, Adalah petitioned the High Court to annul definitively the ILA policy. At year’s end, there had been no court action.”

In January 2004, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “Demographically speaking, if Israel does not relinquish the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians will soon outnumber the Jews and Israel will become either an apartheid state or a non-Jewish state.” Despite international efforts to revive a peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, Israel continues to expand Jewish-only settlements in Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank.

Whether or not the State Department’s population numbers are precisely accurate, given Israel’s political interest in obscuring the true population picture, they demonstrate that even Israel’s closest ally cannot hide the reality that as each year passes, Israel’s claims to be a democracy grow ever more threadbare. A Jewish Israeli minority cannot dominate the greater number of Palestinians between the Mediterranean and the Jordan while still retaining its claim to democratic status.

Michael Brown is Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based Partners for Peace. Ali Abunimah and Nigel Parry are co-founders of the Electronic Intifada.