'J'lem could top 1 million residents by year's end'

Though Interior Ministry estimate considered high, exponentially growing Arab birthrate means J'lem could have Arab majority.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
March 8, 2012 21:11
3 minute read.
A man prays at the Mount of Olives cemetery.

Mount of Olives Jerusalem skyline panorama 390 R. (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)

 
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Jerusalem may grow to one million residents by the end of 2012 and could have an Arab majority in a decade or two, according to statistics from the Interior Ministry made available to The Jerusalem Post.

The list of registered residents puts the number of Jerusalemites at 933,113 on December 31, 2011, an increase of approximately 80,000 residents from a year earlier. If the population continues to rise at the same rate, the country’s largest city, and its poorest large city, will have more than one million people by the end of 2012.

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In addition, the Interior Ministry statistics show that the Arab population is increasing dramatically: While Arabs today make up 37.3 percent of Jerusalemites, they account for 42% of those under 15.

City Councilor Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio at the municipality, said the numbers pointed to the fact that the Arab sector was growing so quickly that Jerusalem could lose its Jewish majority in a decade or two.

“Personally, I have no problem with an Arab mayor, but the people who are so worried about the ‘Jewishness’ of Jerusalem need to understand that if the city isn’t divided quickly, we’ll have an Arab mayor,” Margalit said. “It’s preferable that they understand this as soon as possible, because the demographic clock doesn’t stop, ever.”

The figures provided in the Interior Ministry’s annual report are much higher than the numbers from the census data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, which puts the population of Jerusalem at 788,152.

Part of the reason for the gap is the ministry’s list includes all people who have registered their address in Jerusalem, including part-time foreign residents, a ministry spokeswoman said.

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The CBS data is considered more accurate, and both the city and the government use its numbers for official population data. But Margalit said the CBS numbers underestimates the actual population, so that the government grants given to the city on a per resident basis are lower than they should be. The Interior Ministry numbers are an important warning to the city that is growing too fast for infrastructure to keep pace, he said.

“It scares me because I’m not sure that we’re able to administrate a city of a million residents,” Margalit said. “We don’t have the tools and we don’t have the money. The fact is that most of the residents of Jerusalem are poor. To administrate a city of a million people when most are poor means you need a lot of assistance from the government. I’m not sure the government is interested in giving the city the assistance that it needs, because it has not done so far.”

Jerusalem does receive a special grant from the government under the “Jerusalem Rule,” which this year amounts to NIS 210 million.

Deputy Mayor David Hadari (National Union), who holds the economic portfolio at city hall, researched how much money the capital needs in an annual grant from the state to “get Jerusalem back on its feet.” He put the figure at NIS 1 billion, but acknowledged that getting that much would be highly unlikely.

While he dismissed the Interior Ministry population figures as inaccurately high, Hadari stressed that additional government support is critical. “The state needs to put its hand in its pocket and give us money,” he said.

He said that the government needed to take “emergency action” to help the city become more attractive to new immigrants, workers and people who serve in the army, to bring more residents and stave off an Arab majority.

“We need an emergency national plan so that Jerusalem stays united and majority Jewish,” Hadari said.

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