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The population and demographics of the Palestine mandate and of Ottoman Palestine has been a subject of considerable controversy. Ottoman census figures were not reliable (see Population of Ottoman and Mandate Palestine. The British carried out only two censuses - in 1922 and 1931. Even in these supposedly accurate counts, the nomadic Bedouin population of the Negev could only be be estimated and was variously considered to be about 100,000 or 50,000. In the years after 1931, the only available population figures were those given in the British mandate blue books (vilstat) statistics, which were compiled from reports of births and deaths by town and village and district, and immigration and emigration statistics. These were inaccurate for various reasons: A large number of Jewish illegal immigrants were not counted. A large number of Arab workers brought "temporarily" to Haifa port were probably not counted. There was apparently considerable illegal immigration of Arabs via Sinai and Jordan as well. If a man took a wife from outside Palestine, this would not be registered necessarily, since the records depended primarily on birth records and immigration was often "informal." The Bluebook figures were apparently last compiled in 1945 and reflect figures from 1944 or 1945. The Report of the Anglo American Committee of Inquiry used those figures and others to estimate the population of Palestine at the end of 1946, by projecting birth rates apparently. Between 1946 and the announcement of partition in November 1947, there was significant emigration of Arabs from Palestine.
The demographics and population figures are used for political purposes, to back various claims about the percentage of the Jewish population in Palestine, the number of Arab refugees and the rights and claims of the respective sides. In general such claims are suspect and their validity would depend on one's point of view in the best circumstances, even if the numbers were correct. The British Mandate was granted in order to create a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine (see The British Mandate for Palestine. Arab pressure forced the British authorities to issue The British White Paper of 1939, limiting Jewish immigration and land purchases. This violated the terms of the mandate. From the Zionist point of view, the demography of Palestine reflected the injustice done by the White Paper of 1939 and was irrelevant to deciding the rights of the respective populations, especially as the White Paper restrictions had resulted in the deaths of large numbers of Jews who could not escape Europe and were murdered in the Holocaust. The Grand Mufti, Hajj Amin El Husseini, who was a Nazi collaborator, did his best to ensure that the Germans would not allow Jews to emigrate to Palestine even when the British were willing to permit it.
The Arabs of Palestine, for their part would argue that the British Mandate itself was unjust. That may be so, but it is doubtful at best, if, having done their best to stop Jewish immigration and land purchases over a long period preceding the mandate, as well as during the mandate, they can then legitimately claim that the Jews had no right to a state because they were not a majority and didn't own much of the land.
The figure of 608,000 given for Jewish population of Palestine apparently includes illegal immigrants that were declared to the Anglo-American commission by the Jewish Agency. It is a large increase over the reported Jewish population of the British records.
It is not clear from the footnotes below who produced the revised population estimates and when they were produced. The Anglo-American survey gave lower values that were from 1944 in a different volume. One might think we could get an idea of the basis of the estimate for Arab population by comparing the projected figures given here, with the ones summarized given in the Anglo American Survey as the 1945 Vilstat figures.
Non Jewish population of Palestine
Comparison of 1945 population figures and 1946 projections
From the above it is evident that we can draw no conclusions by comparing the estimates with the Vilstat figures of April 1945 on which they were were supposedly based. Overall, there was an increase of about 1.1% in these districts. Since this is less than the population increase that should have occurred in this period, we could assume that the Anglo-American survey had found errors in the vilstat statistics and corrected them.
The figures given for non-Jewish population total 1,237,330 persons at the end of 1946. If we add 3% for natural increase, a very high estimate, we would arrive at 1,274,450 persons at the beginning of 1948. However, if we add the elusive 50,000 Bedouin of the Negev, who do not appear in the 1946 figures, and apparently did not exist or could not be counted, the numbers would be larger. Even counting this nomadic population, some of which lived in Syria and Transjordan part of the year, there doesn't appear to be any justification for the figure of "1,358,000 Palestinian Arab citizens of Palestine" given by McCarthy.
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UNITED NATIONS CONCILIATION COMMISSION FOR PALESTINE
22 March 1949
SETTLED POPULATION OF PALESTINE
BY TOWN AND SUB-DISTRICT,
ESTIMATED AS AT 31ST DECEMBER, 1946.
(Reproduced from the Supplement to the Survey of Palestine, June 1947)
(a) Revised de facto estimate.
(b) Revised figures, according to sub-district boundaries 1946.
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