hamas kids 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
'Anyone who believes that Israel can maintain its current hold on all the West Bank is living in a dream." These confident words were spoken by embattled yet defiant Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as he addressed a recent gathering of Jordan Valley farmers. One might think that with the obvious Iranian and Hizbullah threats hanging over Israel's head and the ominous warnings of a senior IDF officer regarding the Hamas buildup in Gaza, Olmert would be placing his focus elsewhere. Nonetheless, the issue of the demographic threat to Israel caused by its presence in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) has returned to the front pages.
In order to judge this issue rationally, avoiding the emotional diatribes frequently launched by those on both sides of the issue, it is crucial to examine the facts. As Olmert rightly emphasizes, "Everyone understands that the State of Israel can't exist without a Jewish majority."
His convergence/realignment plan for unilateral withdrawal from Judea and Samaria was based specifically on this perception, the problematic reality of a tiny Jewish population living among a large and rapidly rising Palestinian Arab population. Only by relinquishing control of these territories would Israel be able to maintain its Jewish majority. This has been the widely accepted solution to the demographic threat to Israel, having massive support, almost across the political spectrum. The problem, however, is that this view is usually accepted with very little questioning and far less analysis.
The demographic argument of those who advocate Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, whether unilateral or negotiated with our peace-loving neighbors, ignores both the steady high birthrates of the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria and the ongoing and increasing emigration of the Arab population from those areas. Furthermore, the media rarely notes that the reports of massive Arab population growth have been deliberately exaggerated to serve Arab/Muslim political interests. By closing our eyes to these simultaneous trends, we are simply supporting Hamas/Fatah propaganda and lies, intended to destroy the Jewish state.
YORAM ETTINGER, who headed the Israeli research team in a major demographic study carried out in 2005, has pointed out that Israel is not losing the demographic race and emphasized that "there is no need to retreat from Jewish geography in order to secure Jewish demography." Furthermore, the true demographic threat for Israel is not in Judea and Samaria, but in regions like the Galilee, with its large and growing Arab majority, or in secular Tel Aviv, where large families are unfortunately not the norm. As Prof. Dan Meyerstein, president of Ariel College, has pointed out, the birthrate in Judea and Samaria is "crazily higher than the rest of Israel" - 4.4 children, as opposed to the national average of 2.8.
No, the real demographic threat for Israel lies not in the "West Bank," but within pre-1967 Israel, and it is there that Prime Minister Olmert should be focusing his attention. The optimistic and idealistic Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria don't need the encouragement of government subsidies to have large families, and the many Jews who emigrate from Israel every year are greatly underrepresented in their numbers. In their large and growing population, they express their belief in both the Jewish past and future by settling the historic heartland of Israel, despite the current overwhelming political pressures to do the opposite.
According to the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria, there are now over 260,000 tax-paying Jewish residents in the region. Anyone who lives in these areas knows that the demand for homes, especially among young couples, is much greater than the supply, and the persistent reports of foolish Israeli withdrawal plans have limited building projects in these areas. But Jews continue to arrive from all parts of Israel, as well as from abroad, seeking homes in places such as Shiloh, Bet El, and Hebron, and many of those who have grown up there continue stay on after they marry, in whatever housing is available, raising large families and building for the future in those disputed areas.
This is the reality on the ground.
Yes, Zionism is alive and well in the Biblical heartland of Israel, both idealistically and demographically. It's okay for Mr. Olmert to debate differences based on facts, but the persistent mantra of the demographic threat in Judea and Samaria is based on an illusion.
The writer, a long-time resident of Shiloh, is the author of God, Israel, and Shiloh: Returning to the Land.