Demographics and Power: Israel and Palestine, the strength of numbers

(To Andrea Gaspardo)

As mentioned countless times in the course of various analyzes written previously, demography constitutes one of the fundamental pillars of a country's power and, indeed, upon careful reading, people would be amazed to see how much demographic dynamics have greatly contributed to shaping the History of Human Civilization favoring the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires. In this context, demography deserves respect and recognition equal to that reserved for other disciplines such as economics or military science.

In inaugurating this new series of analyzes renamed, precisely, "Demography and Power" (where the "e" can be read both as a conjunction and as the third person singular of the verb to be), I decided to start from an event still fresh in the memory of the international public in order to be able to see the strength of demographics at work in the context of one of the most thorny and contrasted conflicts of the Contemporary Era, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Today's Israeli-Palestinian conflict represents the natural continuation of the Arab-Zionist conflict that began in 1881 when, following the anti-Jewish "pogroms" that shook the Russian Empire at that time, the first waves of "Socialist Pioneers" ( Jews native to Eastern Europe strongly ideologized due to the spread of socialist ideas in their communities) gradually began to pour into that geographical area of ​​the Middle East in which the so-called "Mandatory Palestine" would later be established under the aegis of British Empire in the aftermath of the First World War.

The end of the Ottoman Empire and the conquest of the Middle Eastern lands by the British and French empires, concise with an acceleration of the migration progress of Jews from the European continent also encouraged by the so-called "Balfour Declaration" of 1917 (photo) which aimed to creation of a "Jewish National Home" precisely in that strategic area of ​​the Middle East in order to have a better justification for maintaining the British imperial grip there indefinitely.

Originally the British had formulated their proposed "Mandate" in such a way that it included not only the area south of the Litani River, east and north-east of the Sinai desert and between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan (the so-called "Little Palestine"), but also the mountains around the Sea of ​​Galilee and a vast desert area located east of the Jordan River stretching towards the deserts of neighboring Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq. The area thus obtained, also called "Great Palestine" in the popular vulgate, was soon reorganized into an "Emirate of Transjordan", today the "Kingdom of Jordan", including all the territories east of the Jordan River, ruled by the Hashemite dynasty and in a "Mandatory Palestine" including the territories west of the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, while the heights east of the Sea of ​​Galilee, also known as the "Golan plateau", were ceded to France which incorporated them into its "Mandate of Syria" . However, the geographical image of a single political entity that embraced all the territories of the original "British Mandate" has remained very much alive in the collective memory, continuing to animate the dreams of both the most extremist part of the so-called "Revisionist Zionist Movement" which gave origin of the modern Israeli right and of the elite of what would later become the modern Palestinian people.

In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, demographics played a fundamental role from the very beginning. In 1881, at the beginning of the Zionist migratory waves, the population of what would become "Mandatory Palestine" totaled about 462.000 inhabitants, of which 404.000 were Muslims (mostly Arabs), 43.000 Christians (also mainly Arabs, but also important were the Armenians, settled in the neighborhood of Jerusalem where they traditionally settled) while the Jews were about 15.000 (equal to 3,3% of the total population) concentrated in the centers of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed and Tiberias (the four so-called "cities sante ”of the Jewish tradition). In the following decades, thanks to both the birth rate and the growing immigration funded by the Zionist Movement, the balance of power changed significantly so that in 1947, out of a total population of 1.970.000 people, Muslims were 1.181.000, Christians 143.000 and the Jews 630.000 (equal to 32% of the total population); in 66 years, the percentage of the Jewish population compared to the total population of the territory had almost increased tenfold!

The "First Israeli-Arab War" of 1948-49 had as immediate effects the creation of the State of Israel, the expulsion of more than 700.000 Palestinians, both Muslim and Christian, from the territory of the newborn state (the so-called "Nakba") and the imposition of a clear Jewish majority in the territories of the internationally recognized state (1949-67 borders). It is important to remember that the proclamation of the State of Israel (14 May 19489) was not followed by a proclamation of the "State of Palestine", and indeed, at the end of the hostilities, the territories of the former Mandatory Palestine remained in the hands of Arab forces (the Gaza Strip and the West Bank) were annexed respectively by Egypt and Jordan who administered them heavily through real military governments. The experience of Egyptian and Jordanian direct control slowed down but did not stop the process of creating a Palestinian national identity, albeit younger and more unstable than the Jewish-Israeli one, and indeed the progressive merging of Palestinian communities into a single front. Gaza, the West Bank and the refugee Diaspora would in the following decades transform Palestinian political organizations and militants into important players in the Middle Eastern political landscape.

On the Israeli side, while the Jewish population was committed to consolidating its pre-eminence both through the birth rate and through the absorption of the most disparate diasporas, the non-Jewish citizens of the state were faced with a dilemma: to integrate or oppose the new entity. geopolitics? Contrary to what the popular vulgate and a lot of dishonest press would be willing to admit, by carefully observing demographic data and social statistics, it is clear that, in the period between 1949 and 1967, all the communities present in the territory of Israel were converging towards a common path of development and integration, furthermore advocated by the so-called “Socialist Zionism” which was the de facto quasi-official ideology of the state at that time.

Things then changed dramatically starting in 1967. In that year, Israel achieved a stunning victory in the so-called "Six Day War" against the unified Arab forces and, in the course of military operations, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). ) managed to conquer: the Upper Galilee, the Golan, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the entire Sinai peninsula (the latter later returned to Egypt after the 1978 Camp David agreements). A consequence of these events was that, eighteen years after the conclusion of the "First Israeli-Arab War", the Palestinian population living both within the State of Israel and in the so-called "Palestinian Territories" (West Bank and Gaza Strip) thus became "Reunified" and that also marked the moment in which the process of progressive convergence of the so-called "Israeli Arabs" with the "Israeli Jews" was interrupted. The reasons for the end of this process were different, but the main ones were the following:

- the dramatic decrease, if not the end, of public investments by the Israeli state in the areas of Arab settlement, which have thus become the most economically-socially depressed part of the country;

-the exposure of the Israeli Arabs to the reality of the daily occupation of the "Territories" and the living conditions of their "Palestinian brothers".

The combination of these and other factors has led, over more than fifty years, to a progressive estrangement of the Arabs of Israel from Jewish society, so much so that, according to data collected in 2017 by a research conducted by Sammy Smooha, professor of sociology of the University of Haifa, 16% of the Arab inhabitants of Israel identify themselves as "Israeli Arabs", 17% as "Palestinian Arabs" and the remaining 67% as "Palestinians living in Israel".

The question of the lack of interpenetration between the different national communities appears even more evident when one touches the naked nerve of mixed marriages, actually a taboo subject in the entire Middle East. According to data collected by the Pew Research Center, updated to 2015, in fact, 82% of Muslim Arabs would be uncomfortable if their child married a Jew and this percentage rises to 88% among Christian Arabs. However, these percentages are more than reflected among Israeli Jews, 89% of whom would have a bad view of their child marrying a Christian Arab and as many as 97% would be against marriage to a Muslim Arab (as much as 50% of Jews Israelis would equate marriage to a Muslim to an "act of treason against the state"!).

A further element that could poison relations between different communities in the long run is the so-called "Law on Nationality", approved by the Knesset in 2018, which also sanctioned de jure the fact that Israel is the state of the Jewish people practically eliminating any space of political maneuver for other communities. Since its approval, this law has been particularly vehemently attacked not only by Muslim Arabs and Christian Arabs, but also by members of other minor communities such as Circassians, Armenians and, above all, by the Druze. Although on paper they amount to less than 2% of the total population of the Jewish state, the 5000 Circassians and the 143.000 Druze actually play a very important role both in the armed forces and at the political level since the males of the two communities are the only citizens of the country. 'Israel (apart from the Jews) to be subject to the compulsory conscription regime and have distinguished themselves in every single conflict of Israel, from its foundation until today, and have often proved to be important even at the level, so to speak, " propaganda ”in advocating its values ​​as a“ democratic state for all its citizens ”. In light of these events, it is not surprising that the members of these communities that have always been considered loyalists have experienced the approval of the "Law on Nationality" as a real stab in the back.

Moving towards the conclusion, however, it is now time to ask ourselves: “what are the actual numerical relationships on the ground between the various communities living in the territories of Israel and“ Palestine ”?

Observing the demographic tables produced over the years by Arnon Soffer and Sergio Della Pergola, it can be seen that in the entire territory that goes from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River and which includes the Golan Heights, the total number of non-Jews has now reached that of Jews. The total Jewish population of "Eretz Israel" in fact amounts to 7.250.000 souls (considering both "pure Jews" and non-Jewish relatives who are members of Jewish families) but this number is now equaled by the sum of Palestinians living in the "Territories" (Gaza plus West Bank) and non-Jews living in Israel (Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, Druze, Armenians, Circassians, African immigrants, etc ...).

If Israeli non-Jews despite the bad press to which they are subjected do not actually pose an existential threat to the Jewish state, given that, according to all demographic projections, they will never be able to exceed 25% of the country's population, things they change radically when the Palestinians of the "Territories" and the "demographic bomb" they bring as a dowry are considered in the equation. Although the total fertility rate (TFR) of Israeli Jewish women is 3 children per woman (the highest found in developed countries), that of Palestinian women is 3,6 children per woman.

From 1881 onwards, the Jews were able to use the "human reserves" constituted by the Jewish Diaspora as an ace in the hole on their side of the geopolitical game table, however even this reservoir seems now exhausted, given that the only two Jewish communities in the world The Israeli and American ones still show sustained growth rates, while all the others are in full demographic shrinkage. Given that millions of American Jews would hardly have the incentive to migrate to Israel, it is understood that, after 140 of "over-exploitation", even the Aliyah weapon (migration to Israel) has now been overused.

In light of these facts, it is very easy to predict that, in the next 10-20 years, the demographic gap will tend to widen more and more in favor of the Palestinians, inside and outside the borders of Israel, and the hypothetical scenario that this could translate into in the long term in a loss of Jewish connotations by the Israeli state, it is a possibility that should not be discarded a priori at all.

Photo: IDF / web