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by Fred M. Gottheil


In deep antiquity, particularly in Egypt, the early civilization where the arts were most strongly developed, the visualization was aspective: that is the artist, working in paint or low-relief sculpture, conveyed to his two-dimensional surface not so much what he saw as what he knew was there.
-- Paul Johnson, The Renaissance

Palestinian demography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has never been just a matter of numbers. It has always been -- and consciously so -- a front-line weapon used in a life-and-death struggle for nationhood among two peoples living in what used to be known as Palestine, each having competing ideologies and competing claims to territorial inheritance and rights to national sovereignty.

The problem with staking so much on so narrow a focus as past demography is that the data generated by demographers and others since the early nineteenth century are so lacking in precision that, in some matters of dispute concerning demography, "anyone's guess," as the saying goes, "is as good as any other." Or almost so. Of course, people still engaged in this high-stakes game of Palestinian demographic warfare will argue otherwise. With few exceptions, they insist that their own sources are superior, their own estimates more scientific, and their critics more ideological.

There are really two issues -- or two battlefronts -- associated with estimating Palestinian demography. The first has to do with sheer numbers, i.e., measuring over time the size of Palestine's total and subgroup populations. The second battlefront is considerably more contentious. It is estimating the percentages of population growth among subgroups attributed to natural increase and to immigration.

This immigration factor -- or its absence -- is paramount. If a significant percent of a population is composed of recent arrivals, then claims of historic tenancy are compromised. This explains why Arab Palestinians and others use the term "intruder" to describe the Jewish population of Palestine. The importance of Jewish immigration to the Jewish population of Palestine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is undisputed. But Jewish claims to territorial inheritance and to national sovereignty lay elsewhere, in history rather than demography.

On the other hand, for Arab Palestinians, the character of their demography is at the heart of their claim to territorial inheritance and national sovereignty. Their contention, seen by them as being beyond dispute, is that Arab Palestinians have deep and timeless roots in that geography and that their own immigration into that geography has at no time been consequential. To challenge that contention, then, is to challenge their self-selected criterion for sovereignty.

That is to say, the character of Arab Palestinian demography is the single most important piece of evidence supporting the Arab Palestinian claim to territorial inheritance and national sovereignty. The Arab Palestinian population -- large or small, growing or not -- is determined, they insist, strictly by birth and death rates among Arab Palestinians in Palestine, that is, by natural increase alone. This view of their population origin is associated with their still more insular view of "spatial stickiness," that is, their insistence as well that Arabs have not only been disinclined to migrate out of or into Palestine but also that Arab Palestinians have been disinclined to move from one region to another within Palestine.

Before examining these contentions and the competing Arab Palestinian population estimates offered by scholars in a variety of disciplines, e.g., economics, sociology, demography, and history, it may be useful to speculate on what anyone looking at late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Palestinian demography should expect to discover.

Disparities and Migration

If you were asked to guess which of two corn farmers -- a typical Iowa farm laborer or a typical Egyptian farm laborer -- produced more corn per acre, the probability is high that you would choose the Iowa farmer. And the probability is just as high that you would be right -- and for the right reasons. Among the reasons you would offer to explain your choice are two: 1) the Iowa farmer has access to more capital, and 2) the level of technology used on the Iowa farm is considerably more advanced. This imposing combination of more capital and higher levels of technology makes it no contest at all.

Your reasoning -- the cause-effect relationship between farm productivity, capital, and technology -- is mapped in Exhibit 1. The output curve Q measures the value of corn produced by a farm laborer working with different quantities of capital. The more capital used by the farm laborer, the higher is that laborer's productivity. For example, working with $200 of farm machinery, the farm laborer produces $50 worth of corn, point a. If the capital per laborer ratio increases from $200 to $250 -- economists call this increase "capital deepening" -- the laborer's productivity increases from $50 to $60, point b. The curvature of Q -- flattening with capital deepening -- is explained by the law of diminishing returns. Beyond some point, the productivity gains generated by capital deepening rapidly approach zero.,/p>


But that is not the end of the story. More advanced farm technology can shift the output curve upward from Q to Q'. That is to say, still using $200 of capital but this time in a qualitatively superior form of technology generates not $50 but $70 worth of corn, point c. Some changes in technology can produce very dramatic changes in productivity. Compare, for example, the productivity of a $1,000 computer printer to the productivity generated by $1,000 worth of pen and ink.

The moral is simple enough. The more economies engage in capital deepening and technological change, the more they will experience increasing labor productivity. Higher levels of labor productivity make higher wage rates more affordable and also increase levels of employment. Imagine, then, two adjacent economies, one heavily involved in capital deepening and technological change, the other reluctant or unable to change its technology or levels of capital deepening. The consequences are inevitable. The productivity gap between the two economies widens, creating the incentives for labor mobility.

Migratory Impulses

When dog bites man, it's not news. When man bites dog, it's news. Similarly, when considerable regional disparities in labor productivity, wage rates, and employment opportunities fail to generate labor mobility -- particularly among regions in close proximity -- it is newsworthy. That is to say, what really has to be explained is not why people move from less attractive economies to more attractive economies, but why they don't.

Of course, not everybody moves. Lack of information as well as physical, legal, political, religious, and social barriers can work to impede movement. The elderly typically respond less to economic incentives than the young, and peoples' levels of energy and personal aspirations can differ markedly. These factors notwithstanding, it requires hardly a stretch of the imagination to argue that the strength of the migratory impulse among populations is highly correlated with differentials in labor productivity and standards of living.

Historical and contemporary evidence supporting migratory impulses, particularly among populations in the developing economies of the world, is overwhelming.[1] While there is every reason to suspect specific estimates -- the methodology used in tracking migrants is still fairly crude and in some cases politically motivated -- the picture is nonetheless clear. Some migratory routes have become virtual highways. Since the mid-twentieth century, millions of North African and East European migrants have left their native villages, towns, and cities for the more productive and higher-paying jobs in western Europe. The European Commission estimates that approximately one-half million migrants enter the European Union (EU) illegally each year, almost as many as enter legally.[2] Such migration flows are anything but unique. In Asia, the higher-paying employment opportunities in the more industrially advanced economies of Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, and South Korea have attracted an estimated 6.5 million Asian migrants from the less technologically developed economies.[3] Legal and illegal migrant workers in 1998 in Japan alone numbered 1.35 million. The principal countries of origin were China (234,000 legal and 38,000 illegal) and the Philippines (84,000 legal, 43,000 illegal).[4] Or consider the Indonesia-Malaysia connection. In 2001, there were 850,000 Indonesians working legally in Malaysia. An additional 350,000 to 400,000 were unauthorized.[5] That is no surprise when you consider that Indonesian migrants earned $2 per day in Malaysia compared to the $0.28 per day they would have earned in Indonesia.[6]

The migratory impulse is alive and well in the Americas for much the same reasons. The legal and illegal, daily and nightly trek north across the Rio Grande by Mexicans continues to be triggered by the glaring U.S.-Mexican wage disparities. A 1996 survey of 496 undocumented Mexican migrants to the United States showed that they averaged $278 per week compared to the $31 they had earned at their last Mexican job.[7] While there may be reason to question the specific numbers given for the Mexican migratory flows, particularly the illegal estimates, there is little justification to question the economic causes associated with the flow itself.

In 1970s Africa, oil-rich Nigeria absorbed millions of legal and illegal African migrants seeking to escape the drought, famine, and poverty in their native Ghana, Niger, and Chad. The oil-price collapse in the 1980s forced Nigeria to reconsider its open-door immigration policy and by the mid-1980s, approximately 2 million of these migrants -- one million from Ghana alone -- were obliged to leave.[8]

These references to contemporary migrations are, of course, only the tip of the migratory iceberg. Adding up the world's total migrations generates impressive but not surprising numbers. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the total number of persons living outside of their countries of origin was estimated at over 150 million, of which some 100 million -- 30 million undocumented -- represent migrant workers and their families.[9]

What seems to make sense in explaining migratory flows for the rest of the world should make sense as well for the Middle East. And it does. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), Middle East migrant workers -- moving within and beyond the Middle East -- make up approximately 9 percent of the world's 100-million total.[10] By 1987, as many as 1.6 million Egyptians had emigrated to other Arab countries. Not surprising, their principal destinations of choice were oil-rich economies. Iraq hosted 43 percent, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, 39 percent.[11] The Kuwait war of 1990-91 brought about a dramatic shift in the hosting economies of Egypt's emigration. Iraq and Kuwait expelled most of their migrant populations during and following that war and by 2000, Saudi Arabia had become the single most important host of Egypt's now 2.7 million emigrants, absorbing as much as 34 percent of the total. Libya rose to second place among Arab-hosting economies with 12 percent and Jordan followed with 8 percent.[12]

Arab Palestinians, it appears, were no less responsive than were Egyptians to the migratory impulse. According to 1998 United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimates, there were 275,000 Arab Palestinians in Saudi Arabia, 38,000 in Kuwait (a dramatic drop from the 400,000 recorded before the Kuwait war), 74,000 in Libya, and over 100,000 in other gulf countries.[13] Hundreds of thousands left the Middle East entirely. Why should anyone suspect that Arab Palestinians would behave any differently than Egyptians, or Mexicans, or Ghanaians, or Moroccans, or Indonesians, or any other population facing regional inequalities in technology, productivity, income, and employment? That the pull effect of wage and employment disparities matters to Arab Palestinians is attested to not only by the size of their migratory flows but also by the fact that very few Arab Palestinians living in high-productivity Israel were part of that flow. In fact, an estimated 40,000 Jordanians who entered Israel on tourist visas in 2000 have stayed on after their visas expired to take advantage of the higher-paying employment opportunities afforded them in Israel. [14]

Economic Growth, 1922-1931

It would seem reasonable to suppose that for the same reasons Arab Palestinians and other Middle East populations migrated from the less to the more attractive economies at the end of the twentieth century, they would have done the same during the early decades of the twentieth century. Two events distinguished the early years of twentieth-century Palestine from its Middle Eastern neighbors: 1) the immigration into Palestine of European Jews, accompanied by European capital and European technology, and 2) the creation of the British Mandatory Government in Palestine whose responsibilities included the economic development of Palestine. As a result of the mandate conferred by the League of Nations, British capital and British technology followed the British flag.

These two events generated a momentum of economic activity that produced in Palestine a standard of living previously unknown in the Middle East. Table 1 logs some of the critical factors contributing to the economic dynamics in Palestine during the 1920s.


Selected Indicators of Capital Formation and Infrastructure Development: 1922-1931

Capital Stocka

Capital Importsb

Capital Deepeningc

Consumption of Electricityd

Telephone Linese

Kilometers of Metalled Roads

































Source: R. Szereszewski, Essays on the Structure of the Jewish Economy in Palestine and Israel (Jerusalem: Maurice Falk Institute for Economic Research in Israel, 1968), pp. 60, 82; and S. Himadeh, Economic Organization of Palestine (Beirut: American University at Beirut, 1938), pp. 282, 565. (a) '000s of real LP measured at 1936 prices; (b) '000s LP, (c) real LP measured at 1936 prices, (d) units of KWH sold, (e) kilometers of local telegraph and telephone lines.

Capital stock grew at an annual rate of 14.1 percent, much of it a result of capital imports. The deepening of capital -- capital stock per laborer -- accompanied the growth of capital stock. The modernization process in the form of infrastructure development is illustrated by the growth of road construction, electric power, and telephone communications.[15] Table 1 represents the Palestinian version of both movements along the Qt curve of Exhibit 1 -- capital deepening -- and upward shifts in the curve which signal technological change. The results were dramatic. Real net domestic product per capita soared, doubling during 1922-31, from 19.4 LP (Palestine pounds) to 38.2 LP.

The success of these beginnings of modernization could not have been lost on Arab Palestinians nor on Arabs living in adjacent economies.[16] Table 2 contrasts the standards of living enjoyed by Arab Palestinians to the standards in other Middle East economies.


Economic Performance and Standards of Living In Middle East Economies: 1932-1936

Per Capita Incomea

Industrial Daily Wagesb

Per Capita Consumption of Foodstuffc

Net Productivity Per Agricultural Workerd





















Arab Palestinians





Source: F. Gottheil, "Arab Immigration into Pre-State Israel: 1922-1931," Middle Eastern Studies, Oct. 1973, p. 320. (a) British pound sterling, 1936; (b) in mils, 1933-5; (c) International Units (IU), 1934-6; (d) IU, 1934-6

Evidence for Arab Migration

There are several problems associated with estimating Arab immigration into Palestine during the 1920s, the principal one being that Arab migration flows were, in the main, illegal, and therefore unreported and unrecorded.[17] But they were not entirely unnoticed.

Demographer U.O. Schmelz's analysis of the Ottoman registration data for 1905 populations of Jerusalem and Hebron kazas (Ottoman districts), by place of birth, showed that of those Arab Palestinians born outside their localities of residence, approximately half represented intra-Palestine movement -- from areas of low-level economic activity to areas of higher-level activity -- while the other half represented Arab immigration into Palestine itself, 43 percent originating in Asia, 39 percent in Africa, and 20 percent in Turkey.[18] Schmelz conjectured:

The above-average population growth of the Arab villages around the city of Jerusalem, with its Jewish majority, continued until the end of the mandatory period. This must have been due -- as elsewhere in Palestine under similar conditions -- to in-migrants attracted by economic opportunities, and to the beneficial effects of improved health services in reducing mortality -- just as happened in other parts of Palestine around cities with a large Jewish population sector.[19]

While Schmelz restricted his research of the 1905 Palestinian census to the official Ottoman registrations and used these registrations with only minor critical comment, he did acknowledge that "stable population models assume the absence of external migrations, a condition which was obviously not met by all the subpopulations" that Schmelz enumerated.[20]

Like U.O. Schmelz, Roberto Bachi expressed some reservation about the virtual non-existence of data and discussion concerning migration into and within Palestine. He writes:

Between 1800 and 1914, the Muslim population had a yearly average increase in the order of magnitude of roughly 6-7 per thousand. This can be compared to the very crude estimate of about 4 per thousand for the "less developed countries" of the world (in Asia, Africa, and Latin America) between 1800 and 1910. It is possible that part of the growth of the Muslim population was due to immigration.[21]

Although Bachi did not pursue the linkage between undocumented immigration into Palestine and the 6 (or 7) to 4 per thousand differential in growth rates between Palestine and the other less developed countries (LDCs), the idea that at least one-third of Palestine's population growth may be attributed to immigration is -- using Bachi's own growth rate differentials -- not an entirely unreasonable one.

Lacking verifiable evidence did not prevent Bachi from stating the obvious concerning internal migration within Palestine:

The great economic development of the coastal plains -- largely due to Jewish immigration -- was accompanied both in 1922-1931 and in 1931-1944 by a much stronger increase of the Muslim and Christian populations in this region than that registered in other regions. This was probably due to two reasons: stronger decrease in mortality of the non-Jewish population in the neighborhood of Jewish areas and internal migration toward the more developed zones.[22]

In the footnote accompanying this quote, Bachi writes: "As no statistics are available for internal migration, this conclusion has been obtained from indirect evidence."[23] Bachi's footnote is instructive. The "indirect evidence" he referred to no doubt included his understanding of the important role economics plays in explaining demographic movements. While appreciating the value of Ottoman registrations and British mandatory government censuses in providing estimates of Palestinian demography, they were, in his judgment, still crude and incomplete.

Reference to Arab immigration into Palestine during the 1920s is made as well in the British mandatory government's annual compilation of statistical data on population. The Palestine Blue Book, 1937, for example, provides time series demographic statistics whose annual estimates are based on extrapolations from its 1922 census.[24] The footnote accompanying the table on population of Palestine reads:

There has been unrecorded illegal immigration of both Jews and Arabs in the period since the census of 1931, but it is clear that, since it cannot be recorded, no estimate of its volume is possible.[25]

The 1935 British report to the League of Nations noted that:

One thousand five hundred and fifty-seven persons (including 565 Jews) who, having made their way into the country surreptitiously, were later detected, were sentenced to imprisonment for their offence and recommended for deportation.[26]

The number who "made their way into the country surreptitiously" and undetected was neither estimated nor mentioned.

Historian Gad Gilbar's observation on Ruth Kark's contribution to his edited volume Ottoman Palestine, 1800-1914, touches on the issue of Arab immigration into and within Palestine. He relates her ideas in "The Rise and Decline of Coastal Towns in Palestine" to Charles Issawi's thesis concerning the role of minority groups and foreigners in the development of Middle Eastern towns. Explaining why no other Palestinian cities grew as rapidly as Jaffa and Haifa did during the final three decades of the Ottoman rule, Gilbar writes: "Both attracted population from the rural and urban surroundings and immigrants from outside Palestine."[27]

Each piece of the demographic puzzle by itself may reveal no identifiable picture. But given a multiplicity of such pieces, an image does begin to appear. The Royal Institute for International Affairs adds another piece. Commenting on the growth of the Palestinian population during the decades of the 1920s and 1930s it reports: "The number of Arabs who have entered Palestine illegally from Syria and Transjordan is unknown. But probably considerable."[28] And C.S. Jarvis, governor of the Sinai from 1923-36, adds yet another:

This illegal immigration was not only going on from the Sinai, but also from Trans-Jordan and Syria, and it is very difficult to make a case out for the misery of the Arabs if at the same time their compatriots from adjoining states could not be kept from going in to share that misery.[29]

Estimating Real Numbers

The derivation of Palestine migration estimates in this section is based on an uncomplicated imputation theory. Migration becomes a residual claimant for numbers not explained by a population-estimating model based on known initial population stocks and known sets of birth and death rates for that population. In this way, expected population stocks can be derived for any set of subsequent years.

The value of the model depends, of course, on the reliability of the estimates given for initial population stocks and for the rates associated with natural increase. Therein lies the problem with estimating Arab immigration into Palestine. The model itself may be simple and applicable, but its usefulness -- as with all estimating models -- is contingent upon the quality of the data inputs. That quality in the case of Palestinian migration is compromised by the explicit neglect of illegal entrants. If illegal migrants and subsequently illegal residents escaped the census taker, how could the census account for them? It couldn't and didn't.

It is not surprising then that the British census data produce an Arab Palestinian population growth for 1922-31 that turns out to be generated by natural increase and legal migrations alone. Applying a 2.5 per annum growth rate[30] to a population stock of 589,177 for 1922 generates a 1931 population estimate of 735,799 or 97.6 percent of the 753,822 recorded in the 1931 census. Does the imputation model then "prove" that illegal immigration into Palestine was inconsequential during 1922-31? Not at all. A footnote accompanying the census's population time series acknowledges the presence in Palestine of illegal Arab immigration. But because it could not be recorded, no estimate of its numbers was included in the census count.[31] Ignoring illegal migrants does not mean they don't exist.

Setting illegal immigration into Palestine aside, the imputation model does generate substantial migrations of Arab Palestinians within Palestine itself and confirms what many demographers, historians, government administrators, and economists have alluded to: the migration of Arab Palestinians from villages, towns, and cities of low economic opportunity to villages, towns, and cities of higher economic opportunity.

Which towns, villages, and cities offered the higher economic opportunity? Analyzing the 1922 and 1931 demographic data by sub-district and separating those sub-districts of Palestine that eventually became 1948 Israel -- that is, sub-districts that had relatively large Jewish populations (with accompanying Jewish capital and modern technology) -- from those that were not designated as part of 1948 Israel, identified not only the direction of Arab Palestinian migration within Palestine but its magnitude as well.[32]

The Arab Palestinian populations within those sub-districts that eventually became Israel increased from 321,866 in 1922 to 463,288 in 1931 or by 141,422. Applying the 2.5 per annum natural rate of population growth to the 1922 Arab Palestinian population generates an expected population size for 1931 of 398,498 or 64,790 less than the actual population recorded in the British census. By imputation, this unaccounted population increase must have been either illegal immigration not accounted for in the British census and/or registered Arab Palestinians moving from outside the Jewish-identified sub-districts to those sub-districts so identified. This 1922-31 Arab migration into the Jewish sub-districts represented 11.8 percent of the total 1931 Arab population residing in those sub-districts and as much as 36.8 percent of its 1922-31 growth.

That over 10 percent of the 1931 Arab Palestinian population in those sub-districts that eventually became Israel had immigrated to those sub-districts within the 1922-31 years is a datum of considerable significance. It is consistent with the fragmentary evidence of illegal migration to and within Palestine; it supports the idea of linkage between economic disparities and migratory impulses -- a linkage universally accepted; it undercuts the thesis of "spatial stickiness" attributed by some scholars to the Arab Palestinian population of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; and it provides strong circumstantial evidence that the illegal Arab immigration into Palestine, like that within Palestine, was of consequence as well.

Denying the Evidence

As compelling as the arguments and evidence supporting consequential illegal immigration may be to some scholars, they are clearly unconvincing to others. The single most cited contemporary publication on Palestinian demography is Justin McCarthy's 1990 The Population of Palestine. Of McCarthy's 43 pages of descriptive analysis -- supplemented by 188 pages of demographic tables copied directly from Ottoman, European, and Jewish source materials -- slightly more than one and a half pages are devoted to Arab immigration into and within Palestine during the Ottoman period, and a similar one and a half pages are devoted to Arab immigration during the succeeding mandate period.[33] According to McCarthy, these few pages offer enough critical analysis to close the lid on the "infamous" immigration thesis.

Consider first McCarthy's analysis of Arab immigration during the Ottoman period. That he finds no illegal immigration of consequence is not surprising because McCarthy uses official Ottoman registration lists that, by the nature of its classifications, take no account of the unreported, illegal immigration. That is to say, if you look in a haystack for a needle that wasn't put there, the probability is high you won't find it. It is strange that that idea had not occurred to McCarthy. Choosing to focus on the official registration lists allows him to write:

From the analysis of rates of increase of the Muslim population of the three Palestinian sanjaks [Ottoman sub-provinces], one can say with certainty that Muslim immigration after 1870 was small.[34]

Reflecting elsewhere on the possibility that the immigration may have occurred over an extended period of time, McCarthy writes: "To postulate such an immigration ... stretches the limits of credulity."[35]

McCarthy's treatment of the linkage between economic disparities and migration impulses appears to be even more disingenuous. He writes: "The question of the relative economic development of Palestine in Ottoman times is not a matter to be discussed here."[36] Nor is it considered anywhere else in his book. That is to say, McCarthy does not contest the linkage so much as ignore its relevance to the Palestinian situation.[37]

His dismissal of Arab immigration into Palestine during the mandate period is based on a set of assumptions concerning illegal immigration that is both restrictive and unsubstantiated. He contends that even if the illegal immigrants were unreported on entry, their deaths in Palestine would have been registered. So too, he argues, would their children born in Palestine. Deriving estimates based on such registrations, he arrives at this conclusion: immigration was minimal.[38] But he provides no evidence to show that these supposed registrations of births and deaths were actually made. Had McCarthy considered the fact that detection of illegal immigration during the mandate period resulted in imprisonment and deportation and that immigrants, aware of this, may have avoided any formal registration of deaths and births, he would have had to revise his assessment of illegal immigration.

Perhaps the more serious charge against McCarthy's analysis of Arab immigration is his use of Roberto Bachi's estimates. McCarthy's numbers are based, in part, on Bachi's reporting of 900 illegal Arab immigrants per year over the period 1931-45.[39] But McCarthy misrepresents what Bachi's estimate is meant to show. Bachi is careful to identify his 900-per-year illegal Arab immigration estimate as only those discovered by the mandatory authorities. Illegal Arab immigration that went undetected and unreported is not included. He writes:

A detailed analysis presented in Appendix 6.5B on the basis of the registration of part of the illegal migratory traffic, discovered by the Palestine police, shows that legal movements (as reflected in Tables 9.4-9.7) constituted only a small fraction of total Muslim immigration.[40]

To emphasize this point, Bachi writes: "It is hardly credible that illegal movements which were actually discovered included all the illegal entrances which actually occurred, or even the majority of them."[41] As a result, Bachi can only conclude that "in the present state of knowledge, we have been unable to even guess the size of total immigration."[42]

Such a cautionary comment finds no place in McCarthy's analysis or conclusions. Using Bachi's estimates inappropriately, deriving estimates based solely on registration lists, and ignoring completely the linkages between regional economic disparities and migratory impulses, McCarthy confidently concludes,

the vast majority of the Palestinians resident in 1947 were the sons and daughters who were living in Palestine before modern Jewish immigration began. There is no reason to believe that they were not the sons and daughters of Arabs who had been in Palestine for many centuries.[43]

Every Reason to Believe

Therein lies the ideological warfare concerning claims to territorial inheritance and national sovereignty. Contrary to McCarthy's findings or wishes, there is every reason to believe that consequential immigration of Arabs into and within Palestine occurred during the Ottoman and British mandatory periods. Among the most compelling arguments in support of such immigration is the universally acknowledged and practiced linkage between regional economic disparities and migratory impulses.

The precise magnitude of Arab immigration into and within Palestine is, as Bachi noted, unknown. Lack of completeness in Ottoman registration lists and British Mandatory censuses, and the immeasurable illegal, unreported, and undetected immigration during both periods make any estimate a bold venture into creative analysis. In most cases, those venturing into the realm of Palestinian demography -- or other demographic analyses based on very crude data -- acknowledge its limitations and the tentativeness of the conclusions that may be drawn.


[1] On June 20, 2002, there were 2,840,000 "migration" entries on the Internet (Google); 319,000 for Asian migration alone, 282,000 for African migration, 291,000 for Middle Eastern migration, 78,000 for Arab migration, and 69,000 for Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development migration. The International Labor Organization (ILO) and the United Nations have published extensively on the subject.
[2] Reuters, June 18, 2002.
[3] The Jakarta Post, Mar. 3, 2000.
[4] Peter Stalker, Growing Global Migration and Its Implications for the United States (Washington: National Intelligence Council, Mar. 2001), p. 38, table 3, at
[5] Migration News, Oct. 2001, p. 2., at
[6] The Jakarta Post, Mar. 3, 2000.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Nicholas Van Hear, Consequences of the Forced Mass Repatriation of Migrant Communities: Recent Cases from West Africa and the Middle East (Geneva: U.N. Research Institute for Social Development, 1992), p. 1.
[9] Patrick Taran and David Nii Addy, "Global Overview Trends in Labour Migration, Standards and Policies with Reference to West Africa," ILO International Migration Policy Seminar for West Africa, Dakar, Senegal, Dec. 18-21, 2001, at
[10] Ibid.
[11] The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, Cairo, provides these statistics at
[12] ILO Migration Data Base, Egypt: Table 11, "Nationals Abroad by Sex and by Host Country, Absolute Numbers, 1986-2001." See also "Egyptian Guest Workers in the Gulf," Migration News, July 1995, at
[13] Ahmad Sidqi al Dajani, The Future of the Exiled Palestinians in the Settlements Agreement (London: Palestinian Return Center, Oct. 2000), at
[14] The Jerusalem Post, July 4, 2001.
[15] Roberto Bachi, The Population of Israel (Jerusalem: Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University, 1974), p. 45.
[16] Ibid., p. 46
[17] A second issue contributing to the dearth of Arab migration data and analysis was that scholarly research and interest in the region focused on the more legal and documented, more prevalent, and more politically significant Jewish immigration. While Arab immigration may have been obvious and even predictable, it would have been less noteworthy at the time.
[18] U.O. Schmelz, "Population Characteristics of Jerusalem and Hebron Regions According to Ottoman Census of 1905," in Gar G. Gilbar, ed., Ottoman Palestine: 1800-1914 (Leiden: Brill, 1990), p. 42.
[19] Ibid., pp. 32-3. Emphasis added.
[20] Ibid., p. 61. Emphasis added. Elsewhere, he grants that "the censuses were taken by teams of local mukhtars and other functionaries" and "that may have created conflicts of motive when the authorities, by threat of penalty, exacted reports from local dignitaries (the mukhtars) which the population may have had an interest in evading." (pp. 18-9).
[21] Bachi, Population of Israel, pp. 34-5. Emphasis added.
[22] Ibid., p. 51. Emphasis added.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Palestine Blue Book, 1937 (Jerusalem: British Mandatory Government Printer, 1938), p. 140.
[25] Ibid. Emphasis added. The Palestine Blue Book, 1928 actually offers an estimate. It says: "The total population 816,064 is probably understated by 20,000-25,000 due to unrecorded immigration." (p. 143.) Three years later, the Palestine Blue Book, 1931 uses the same estimate and the same wording but for a different size population: "The total population 946,463 is probably understated by 20,000-25,000 due to unrecorded immigration." (p. 146.) By 1937, the estimate was dropped in favor of "no estimate of its volume is possible."
[26] Report by His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nations on the Administration of Palestine and Trans-Jordan for the Year 1935 (London: His Majesty's Stationary Office, n.d.), p. 14.
[27] Gar G. Gilbar, "Economy and Society in Palestine at the Close of the Ottoman Period: A Diversity of Change," in Ottoman Palestine, 1800-1914, p. 3.
[28] Great Britain and Palestine, 1915-1945, Information Paper no. 20, 3d ed. (London: Royal Institute for International Affairs, 1946), p. 64.
[29] C.S. Jarvis, "Palestine," United Empire (London), 28 (1937): 633.
[30] The 2.5 growth rate is derived from the following table for annual rates of natural increase of Muslim population.





















[31] Palestine Blue Book, 1937, p. 140.
[32] For a sub-district by sub-district count of population and for the methodology used to separate subdivisions that became 1948 Israel and those that did not, see Fred M. Gottheil, "Arab Immigration into Pre-State Israel: 1922-1931," Middle Eastern Studies, 9 (1973): 315-24. The analysis here is a summary version of this article.
[33] Justin McCarthy, The Population of Palestine (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 16-7, 33-4.
[34] Ibid., p. 16. Emphasis added.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Ibid.
[37] The closest McCarthy gets to a linkage discussion is his insistence that the increase in Muslim population had little or nothing to do with Jewish immigration. His findings contradict those of Ruth Kark, Charles Issawi, Roberto Bachi, U.O. Schmelz, Fred M. Gottheil, and Moshe Braver, among others. McCarthy chooses not to address their evidence and competing findings although he refers liberally to both Schmelz's and Bachi's research on other demographic issues.
[38] McCarthy, Population of Palestine, p. 33.
[39] Ibid.
[40] Bachi, Population of Israel, p. 133. Emphasis added.
[41] Ibid., p. 389.
[42] Ibid., p. 390. Emphasis added.
[43] McCarthy, Population of Palestine, p. 34. Emphasis added.

Fred M. Gottheil is a professor in the department of economics, University of Illinois.

This article appeared in Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2003, Vol X, No. 1


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