Jerusalem by numbers: changing birthrates

How will the decreasing Arab birthrate affect the city's future?

Jerusalem old city 88 (photo credit: )
Jerusalem old city 88
(photo credit: )
The Arab fertility rate in Jerusalem has dropped slightly and the Jewish fertility rate has risen in the past few years, according to a joint American-Israeli report submitted to Mayor Uri Lupolianski. The report asserts that in 2005 both the Arab and Jewish birthrates were 3.9 children per woman, the first time the two birthrates have been equal. The Israeli team was led by Yoram Ettinger, a former diplomat in the Shamir government and analyst for the Ariel Center for Policy Research (a think-tank based in the settlement of Sha'arei Tikva), and the US researchers were Bennett Zimmerman, Roberta Seid and Michael Wise. The team began to conduct the study after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert spoke, earlier this year, of a plan to partition the city, claiming that placing tens of thousands of Arabs outside the municipal boundaries would preserve the Jewish majority in Jerusalem. In January 2005, the results of an independent study of the Palestinian population data published by the Palestinian Authority's Central Bureau of Statistics in 1997 conducted by the same team was presented to the Knesset. "Those who claim Jews will become a minority in the region are wrong," Ettinger said at the time. "Since 1967, Jews have maintained their 60 percent majority in Israel and the territories and since 1990, the Jewish population has grown by 2.5% a year, only a fraction below the growth rate in the West Bank." According to this report, the Palestinian Authority's population figures are inflated by more than 1.4 million, and the number of people living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is closer to 2.4 million than the 3.8 million reported by the PA. The researchers claimed the PA population estimate was based on a projection by the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics of a growth rate of 4-5% from a 1997 census, a figure that would give the PA one of the highest growth rates in the world. Zimmerman, the US project leader, said that when the PBS's "incorrect assumptions were applied over many years, the error in population forecast compounded exponentially." As The Jerusalem Post reported at the time, the first draft of the Jerusalem study, which was presented to the Jerusalem Municipality some four months ago, stated that the population included 231,000 Arabs (32%) and 487,000 Jews (68%). The team found that if Israel were to expand the municipal boundaries rather than partition the city, the demographic balance would remain the same. According to the study, if the capital were to include the Adumim bloc, the Etzion bloc, the Adam bloc, the Givon bloc, Mevaseret Zion and its satellite neighborhoods, the Tekoa area, Abu Dis and Bir Naballah there would be 704,000 (68%) Jewish residents and 335,000 (32%) Arab residents. Dr. Maya Choshen, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, said in reaction to the findings that "although the findings are accurate, it is too early to reach any decisive conclusion." In a more general approach, Choshen says that everywhere in the world there are two components that lower the birthrate: going to work outside the home and a rise in educational opportunities. "What is true for women all over the world is true also for Jewish and Arab women, whether they are religious or secular, but it has to be a combination of the two," Choshen explains. "Working in this context means working in a city environment - not in agricultural surroundings and not working from home, but having to go out for a usual work day of a few hours," she says. If women have to leave their house for hours every day and be employed in a job that requires education, the combination of the two, according to the statistical methodology, will end up in a lower number of births for that population, regardless of religious feelings and/or commitment. According to Central Bureau of Statistics figures from 2004 and 2005, there has indeed been a drop in the birthrate among the Arab population in the north and the south of Israel, where a concordance can be found between those numbers and the growing number of women receiving higher education and/or working outside their homes. Ettinger agrees, and puts it in a slightly different light. "This is a well-known process, and we have seen it in the Israeli-Arab population: The more they became Westerners or Israelis, the fewer children they have." Choshen thinks that one year of findings is not enough to reach any conclusion. "I think we should first of all wait for a while and see if it is a trend and if it goes on in this direction in the coming years," she says. Ettinger emphasizes that the survey deals, in general, with issues of Palestinian demography and the connection between demography and geography. "When we say that in 2005 there was been a drop in the birthrate among Arab women in Jerusalem and that their rate has met the Jewish birthrate, we do not take into account the other components - like the age of the women who give birth, the age they get married, and above all, the number of women of fertility age who gave birth in that year," he explains. "We all know that in Jerusalem the population is very young, even more so among the Arab population of the city. We also know that the age of marriage is still lower in the Arab population. So, if in a given year we find that Arab women in Jerusalem gave birth to fewer babies, it doesn't mean that there were fewer Arab babies born that same year." In other words, if the Arab women of Jerusalem have started to have fewer children because they apparently study more and thus work more outside their homes, there is no assurance that at the end of that year we shall see fewer Arab babies born. "The demographic issue is and always has been a major issue on the political agenda," Choshen cautiously adds. "But the science of statistics is much more complicated and complex." "It is true," says ex-city council member and left-wing activist, Meir Margalit, reacting to the results of the report. "Statistics is a science and politicians always try to use it, or should we say make bad use of it. "I must say that I'm more than tired of these statistical battles," he adds. "It reminds me of the kids in kindergarten fighting over the issue who has the biggest whatever it could be. But seriously, in what way do these calculations help us in bettering our life here? And don't get me wrong, I'm criticizing both sides, all those who are busy turning our women's wombs into a tool in this endless war." To the question what, if at all, worried him from the results of this survey, Margalit answered with a bitterness he didn't hide. "Our problem here is the quality of life on both sides, not whose numbers are higher. People deserve to enjoy their civil and human rights no matter what their origin, religion or the number of children they have or not." Margalit says another thing regarding the results of the survey, which according to him is known to every activist in the city from both sides of the political map: "My suggestion to the researchers is to start to take into account the 20,000 - at least - Palestinians who live and work and give birth in this city although they are not registered anywhere, because they are children of mixed couples, because they live in peripheral suburbs of the city where the authorities try to avoid giving the Israeli ID or for other reasons, they do not appear in any surveys or statistics, but they still exist. "Even if these results say something, so what?" he adds. "Suppose that instead of taking 20 years [for an Arab majority] it will take 40 years, then what? In any case the direction is clear - if this city is not divided between them and us, the Jews will lose the majority in Jerusalem, and if this is an important point for the Israeli side, then this is what has to be done, the sooner the better." Ettinger has a vastly different point of view. He believes that to combat negative migration, one of Jerusalem's major demographic problems, the city must expand to the east. In this context, Ettinger admits that Mayor Uri Lupolianski's recent decision to freeze the Safdie Plan for the development of west Jerusalem was "a very good first step in the right direction," although he adds, "it had nothing to do with our research." The topography of east Jerusalem, he explains, makes it more suitable for development. To stem negative migration, Ettinger says that the only solution is to give the city the means to expand and develop - "And that means land and infrastructure on a much larger scale than we have now. I mean trains, inside and outside the city, I mean an airport, I mean highways and the like, and these can be achieved only on the eastern and southeastern side of the city. We have nothing to look for in the west." "In the beginning, if we follow our suggestions, we will annex places like Azariya and Abu Dis, which means that we will have more Palestinians," he says. "But in the long run, taking into account the results of our survey on the lowering birthrate of Palestinian women versus the raising of the Jewish birthrate in Jerusalem, we will save Jerusalem." Ettinger says that the final results of the research will be ready within a couple of weeks. "What we presented to the mayor of Jerusalem some four months ago was a first draft of the results on the birthrate issue and an introduction to our research. In fact, what we want to present is our conclusions and findings regarding the future of this city about 50 years from now. When we complete it, and I believe that it will be pretty soon, a matter of weeks, we will of course present the whole research to the mayor of Jerusalem." Regarding the members of the research team, Ettinger says that it was on a private initiative and under no institution. He insists that although he defines himself as right wing, most of the other scholars who participated in the survey hold rather leftist positions. "This survey came from people who feel engaged and concerned by the future of Jerusalem, [a team] consisting of three Americans and six Israelis who share different political opinions."