Mideastweb: Middle East

Population of Ottoman and Mandate Palestine
Statistical and Demographic Considerations
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The Population of Palestine Prior to 1948


The population figures for mandatory and Turkish Palestine are of historical interest and figure in many historical debates. The Zionist claim that Palestine was "a land without a people" is challenged by pro-Palestinian historians who cite census figures showing a substantial Palestinian-Arab population by 1914. The Zionists note that most of this increase seems to have occurred after 1880, when Jews began developing Palestine. In particular, Joan Peters ("From Time Immemorial") claimed that a large proportion of the population increase among Arabs was due to immigration. Pro-Palestinian historians try to make a case that Zionist settlement had begun displacing Palestinians before 1948.

The goal of the present is to examine the claims in the light of the best available statistical data, without supporting the contentions of either side, and without any intention either to denigrate from the tragedy of Palestinian refugees or to use the data to question Jewish claims to Palestine. The moral claims of the sides should not depend on percentages of population. In practice, I am aware that the data on this page have been used to support various partisan claims. That is precisely the sort of abuse that this material is intended to fight.  The major conclusion is "The nature of the data do not permit precise conclusions about the Arab population of Palestine in Ottoman and British times"  Anyone who pretends otherwise is deliberately misleading you. We can reach some general conclusions - Palestine was not empty when Zionists started arriving, there was some Arab immigration as well etc. But we cannot give a precise number in any case, and even if we could, it would not constitute evidence to back any moral claims.

Uncertainties in the data - Debates about the population of Palestine flourish because of the lack of good information and confusion over the meaning of census figures, and the will of partisans to distort history. Census figures of the Ottoman Empire were unreliable. Foreign residents were not counted, and illegal residents did their best to evade the census, as did people wishing to evade military services and taxes.   The population figures of the British mandate were more reliable, but there was no published census taken after 1931. Mandatory figures for the period after 1931 are based on hospital and immigration records and extrapolation, it seems. Nomadic Bedouin  were not counted or undercounted in both Ottoman and British censuses. Those who became settled in Palestine would then add to population figures. In studying the population of Palestine between 1800 and 1948, we must keep in mind that there was only one agreed-upon reliable census in all that time, which took place in 1931. The British census of 1922 was taken in less than settled conditions, and may have undercounted the population. The Ottoman figures certainly undercounted. The census data of 1922 and 1931 and the estimates based on these censuses have also been challenged but they appear to be internally consistent. That is, in the main, the number of people reported by the British mandate in 1922 and 1931 is consistent with the rates of natural increase that they reported.  The numbers given in the 1945 survey are about 100,000 or more below what would be expected based on the number of refugees and remaining population in 1948. Uncertainties in infant mortality and underreporting of births would not account for all of this discrepancy. It could be due to illegal immigration or in part to settling of nomadic Bedouins in the Palestinian Arab population.

Economics and Immigration - Under the British Mandate, which began after WWI, Jewish population increased due to immigration, especially in the 1930s. Arab population also increased at an exceptional rate. According to records, about 18,000 non-Jews  entered Palestine between 1930 and 1939 when there were more or less reliable figures. In the same period, about 5,000 non-Jews left. This does not count illegal immigration of course, or immigration prior to 1930.  Economic analyses show that by the 1930s the standard of living of Palestinian Arabs was approximately twice that of Arabs  in surrounding countries, whereas in Ottoman Turkish times it was lower than in surrounding countries. Some of the farm population may have suffered economic hardship, characteristic of any industrializing and urbanizing society, but in the main, the standard of living improved, and it improved much faster than it did in surrounding countries. There is no doubt that this improvement in conditions was an attractant for immigrants as well as resulting in improved health and larger families. Additionally, British activity in building the port of Haifa during the 1920s and in operating it during WW II undoubtedly attracted at least some immigrants. However, there is no hard evidence that more than 100,000 or 200,000 (out of about 1.3 million in all of Palestine, and about 7-800,000 in the area that was to become Israel in 1948) Palestinians had immigrated to the land that was to become Israel. It is impossible to determine at present when this immigration took place. 100,000 Arabs immigrating in 1880 would have produced many more descendants by 1948 than 100,000 Arabs immigrating in 1930.  However, since economic conditions did not improve until mandatory times, it is unlikely that the bulk of the immigration occurred under Turkish administration.

Joan Peters, in her book "From Time Immemorial," argues that most of the increase in Arab population was in fact due to illegal Arab immigration. Her figures are not accepted by most demographers and historians, including Zionists. Norman Finkelstein and others have criticized her thesis and shown evidence of poor scholarship. Finkelstein's analysis also shows that the largest increases of Palestinian Arab population occurred close to Jewish population centers in Palestine, which would argue against the Palestinian contention that the Zionists were dispossessing Arabs. We do not know if this increase was due to population shifts in Palestine or immigration from outside Palestine.  It is certain that there was at least some illegal Palestinian-Arab immigration, as noted in British mandatory reports. Immigration from Transjordan was not illegal, and was not recorded as immigration at all until 1938. Beginning in the 1920s when they built Haifa port, and especially during and just prior to  World War II, the British recruited Arab workers from the Houran in Syria and elsewhere. Arabs also came to Palestine before the war, attracted by higher wages. However, since much of the depletion of Palestinian population that had occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was due to migration to neighboring countries, many of these returning Arabs may have been families returning to Palestine.

Refugees - The UN figure for Palestinian Arab refugees that is most often quoted by pro-Arab sources is 726,000. This number was later revised downward to 711,000 by the UN, but almost nobody pays attention to the change. On the other hand, pro-Zionist sources like to quote a much lower figure that was contained in an interim report by Ralph Bunche. The 711,000 figure may be closest to the truth, but there is no real way of knowing.

About this page - This page is the result of an ongoing analysis. It is not intended to be an exhaustive demographic study. Corrections and additions are most welcome.


Many of the figures presented on this page must be incorrect, because they conflict with other reports. Th purpose of showing these data is to examine the discrepancies. It is an abuse of the intent of this essay, and it is intellectually dishonest, to post one table or set of figures from this page in isolation, and to use those numbers to "prove" a political point about Jewish or Arab rights in Palestine.

Major Conclusions

1. The nature of the data do not permit precise conclusions about the Arab population of Palestine in Ottoman and British times, and the relative contributions of natural increase and immigration, imprecision in the counts and other issues.

2. Palestine was not an empty land when Zionist immigration began. The lowest estimates claim there were about 410,000 Arab Muslims and Christians in Palestine in 1893. A Zionist estimate claimed there were over 600,000 Arabs in Palestine. in the 1890s. At this time, the number of Jewish immigrants to Palestine was still negligible by all accounts. It is unlikely that Palestinian immigration prior to this period was due to Zionist development. Though uncertainty exists concerning the precise numbers of Arabs living in the areas that later became Israel, it is very unlikely that the claims of Joan Peters that there were less than 100,000 Arabs living there are valid.

3. Zionist settlement between 1880 and 1948 did not displace or dispossess Palestinians. Every indication is that there was net Arab immigration into Palestine in this period, and that the economic situation of Palestinian Arabs improved tremendously under the British Mandate relative to surrounding countries. By 1948, there were approximately 1.35 million Arabs and 650,000  Jews living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, more Arabs than had ever lived in Palestine before, and more Jews than had lived there since Roman times. Analysis of population by sub-districts shows that Arab population tended to increase the most between 1931 and 1948 in the same areas where there were large proportions of Jews. Therefore, Zionist immigration did not displace Arabs. For a detailed discussion that focuses on this myth, please refer to Zionism and its Impact.

4. Historic population data in Palestine during Ottoman times and during Mandatory times show significant discrepancies. For example, figures reported in Table A-1 for 1930 population of Arabs are about 100,000 too low according to census figures for 1931

5. It is not possible to estimate illegal Arab immigration directly, but apparently there was some immigration. The total Arab immigration to Palestine recorded or estimated by the Mandate government was in the neighborhood of 45,000. Illegal immigration that was not recorded would not register in the final population figures for 1945, because those figures were estimates. We simply do not know how many Arabs and Jews there were in Palestine before the declaration of the state of Israel. It is probable that there were about 100,000 Arab immigrants into Palestine. An unknown number may also have migrated internally, from the Arab areas in the West Bank that were formerly the centers of commercial activity and population to the coastal plain and Galilee. The Arab population increase of areas with large Jewish settlement was about 10% greater than that in areas without Jewish settlement. This effect cannot be totally separated from urbanization. A population of approximately 103,000 Bedouin (1922 estimate reported in the 1927-1929 reports of the Mandatory) may have been excluded or included in different population figures as the authorities and demographers saw fit. There is no way to know how many of these Bedouin made a permanent home in Palestine or how many became part of the city population in the course of industrialization between 1922 and 1948. However,  the evidence indicates that they were in fact included in all the official population figures. This is shown by the fact that estimates of Muslim population that explicitly do not include Bedouin were significantly lower than the census figures, and by the fact that population growth is consistent with figures for natural increase if we assume that the Bedouin were included.

5. There are large discrepancies between official population figures and the  number of Palestinian refugees  -  An analysis of population by subdistricts and villages, using the admittedly incomplete data of the Palestine Remembered Web site, shows that there were about  736,000 Muslim and Christian Arabs in the part of Palestine that was to become "Green Line Israel" in 1949. There would not have been more than 620,000 refugees in 1949 if these figures are correct, since the Israeli census showed 156,000 non-Jews living in Palestine in November 1948, of whom about 14,000 were Druze. The number of refugees reported by UNRWA in 1948 was 726,000. It might indicate that an unregistered and illegal population of 100,000 was included in the refugees, or it might be due to serious and systematic undercounting of Arab population by the Mandate authorities. McCarthy suggests that there was such undercounting, yet his figures for the total population of Palestine agree with projections based on official figures for 1945.

6. There are serious discrepancies in reporting of the number of refugees. In 1949, UNRWA reported 726,000 refugees. By 1950 they reported 914,000 according to one source (McCarthy), an increase of 26% that could not come either from births or further displacement of refugees, which were negligible.

7. The city of Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since about 1896 - The city of Jerusalem itself there was a Jewish majority since about 1896, but probably not before. The district of Jerusalem (as opposed to the city) comprised a very wide area in Ottoman and British times, in which there was a Muslim majority. This included Jericho, Bethlehem and other towns.  Within the Jerusalem district, there was a subdistrict of Jerusalem that includes many of the immediate suburbs such as Eyn Karem, Beit Zeit etc. In that subdistrict, the Jews remained a minority , with only about 52,000 out of 132,000 persons in 1931 for example.

The major conclusion is "The nature of the data do not permit precise conclusions about the Arab population of Palestine in Ottoman and British times"


Population of Ottoman Palestine

The population of Ottoman "Palestine" is difficult to estimate, because:

1. There was no administrative district of Palestine. Turkish census figures were for various districts, including the Jerusalem, Acco and Nablus districts for example. The Acre district included areas in Lebanon, outside the modern borders of Palestine in which there were no Jews.

2. Turkish census figures did not include Bedouins (estimated at a few thousand by Turks, but at 100,000 in the British census of 1922) and foreign subjects. A considerable proportion of the Jews retained their foreign nationality (usually Russian) in Ottoman Palestine.

3. Both Arabs and Jews avoided the Turkish census. Foreigners who were without residence permits did not want to make their presence known. Arabs and Jews wished to avoid taxes and conscription.

4. In the 19th century, only Muslims were subject to the draft, and accordingly, Muslims tended to avoid the census.

5. According to Justin McCarthy, the census tended to undercount women and children.

6. The Turkish census data were not published regularly, so only partial data are available.

As the data are ambiguous, different sources give different estimates. In particular, Zionist sources may exaggerate the number Jews in earlier years and undercount Arabs, and Arab sources  According to Bachi, (cited here)  there were  there were 489,200 Arabs (Muslims and Christians) in Palestine in 1890 and 42,900 Jews.

According to Beinin and Hajjar  the Turkish census for 1878 listed 462,465 Turkish subjects in the Jerusalem, Nablus and Acre districts: 403,795 Muslims (including Druze), 43,659 Christians and 15,011 Jews. In addition, there were at least 10,000 Jews with foreign citizenship (recent immigrants to the country), and several thousand Muslim Arab nomads (Bedouin) who were not counted as Ottoman subjects.

However, according to the data of Karpat, cited here, in  the Ottoman Turkish Census of 1893, there were 371,959 Muslims and 42,689 Christians, for a total of 414,648 Arab Palestinians, and only about 9,000 Jews. The data of Beinin and Hajar probably include subdistricts of the Acre Sanjak that are in modern Lebanon. Everyone agrees that the numbers for Jews and Muslims are far too low. Rupin (cited in the same article here) claimed there were a total of 689,275 persons in Palestine in 1893, of whom about 80,000 were Jews. This number is probably an overestimate.

 According to Justin McCarthy, in 1860, there were 411,000 Arabs in Palestine,  in 1890 there were 553,000, in 1914 there were 738,000, but in 1918 there were only 689,000. As there was no census in several of those years,  it is not clear how he draws these conclusions McCarthy tells us that these numbers have been adjusted for undercounting of women and children, accounting for the differences between McCarthy's figures and census data. The drop during the war may have been caused by famine and disease as McCarthy claims, but he doesn't note that in 1922, the British census listed only 660,641 Arab Palestinians (Christians and Arabs, see table below) nor does he explain the drop from 1918. Perhaps the earlier figures include areas of Palestine not included in the mandate or other overestimates.

By 1908, according to Dr. Hala Fattah ( http://www.jerusalemites.org/jerusalem/ottoman/1.htm ) :

   :" when Sultan Abdul-Hamid II's rule collapsed, it was estimated that the Jewish population of Palestine had risen to 80,000, three times its number in 1882, when the first entry restrictions were imposed." Other estimates put Jewish prewar population as low as 40,000 and as high as 100,000.

According to Arjan El Fassed and Lauri Irani (Originally at electronicintifada.net/historicalmyths/nosuchthing.html and no longer on the Web - 2007) in 1912 there were only 40,000 Jews and 525,000 Arabs in Palestine. However, Beinin and Hajjar claim that the "Arab population in 1914 was 683,000. By the outbreak of World War I (1914), the population of Jews in Palestine had risen to about 60,000, about 33,000 of whom were recent settlers."

The war reduced both Arab and Jewish populations to some extent, so that there were variously, according to different sources, 40,000 to about 80,000 Jews in Palestine.

Comparing some of these numbers is illuminating. The census of 1893 gives a total of 414,648 Arab Palestinians. Table A-1 below lists 469,000 Arabs for 1893, Bachi claimed there were 489,000, McCarthy estimated 553,000, and Rupin estimated about 600,000 all for approximately the same year. Likewise, as noted, there were wide discrepancies for Jews as well. Arjan Fassed and Lauri King Irani (see table below) claimed there were only 7,000 Jews in 1870, and 10,000 in 1893 (apparently taking the Jewish population figures, but not the Arab ones from the Turkish census of that year)  while Bachi estimated that there were about 42,000 Jews in 1893. Hala Fattah claimed about 80,000 Jews in 1908, while table A-1 of Arjan El Fassed and Lauri King Irani listed only 60,000 in 1914.

The data for Arab population estimates are given below. The Census of 1922 is the British Census of course, while that of 1893 is the Ottoman Census. As we can see from inspection there is no agreement between the numbers. In part this may be because they refer to different areas and some include subdistricts that were not part of Palestine after 1918. The origins of these data are not really known. McCarthy's prewar figures are probably overestimates of Arab population, even assuming great undercounting in the Turkish census.

Table 1: Comparison of different estimates of Arab Population of Ottoman Palestine

  Bachi Census

 Table A-1(Fassed)

Rupin  McCarthy
Beinin & Hajar
1860         411,000  
1870     367,224      
1878            447,000
1893 489,000 414,648 469,000 600,000 553,000  
1912-14     525,000   738,000  
1918         689,000  
1922   660,641        

To give an idea of the variability and uncertainty in Ottoman data, Table 1-a presents estimates of population in the Qouds (Jerusalem) district, which comprised about 2/3 of the future area of Palestine

Table 1a: Ottoman population figures for the Qouds District1

Year2: 1885 1890 1900 1910
Population: 233.2 336.13 341.6 382.1

1. Data are from the statistics compiled by  Jan Lahmeyer at the Populstat   Web site using various sources.

2. The actual years are given as 1884/5, 1890/1, 1900/1, 1910/1911

3. An average value taken from two estimates by the same source.

It is very unlikely that the population increased by 44% in 5 or 6 years between 1885 and 1890, or that in 25 years the population increased 63%

The Areas of Jewish Settlement under the Ottoman empire

The principle arguments center around the population of Arab Palestinians in the areas of Palestine that were eventually included in the state of Israel in 1948. In 1948, it is estimated that these areas included some 800,000 Arabs (there is no certainty about this figure either. Joan Peters claimed that the population of these areas was about 92,000 in 1893, based on population figures for the seven Turkish subdistricts that approximately comprised Palestine in 1948. This would mean that Jews, who numbered perhaps 85,000 according to optimistic estimates, might comprise the largest single minority in that area. The origin of these figures is uncertain, since the Turkish census gave 198,000 non-Jewish persons for these sub-districts, probably an underestimate, and Cuinet, a traveler of this period, estimated about 186,000

Table 2: Arab Population of Future Area of Israel in 1893

Peters Cuinet Turkish Census
 92,000 186,000 198,000

If we assume that the initial population was 200,000 in 1893, and that there was a yearly natural increase of 2.7%, we would reach the figure of 820,000 in 1948, without assuming any immigration at all. Assuming that the Ottoman census undercounted, this is not an unlikely surmise. For all of Palestine, between 1922 and 1931, the census figures for non-Jews, correspond to an annual increase of about 2.9%, while between 1931 and 1948 they correspond to an increase of 2.0%. This difference may be due to undercounting in the 1922 census or errors in the estimate after 1931, or to drops in the actual birthrate.

If we accept Peters' figures, then we would have to assume that the shortfall was made up by an additional immigration of somewhat under 100,000 Arab Palestinians since 1893, some of whom would have had considerable offspring by 1948.  However, as Yehoshua Porath has shown (see note below) Peters' figures are very unlikely.

Population of Mandatory Palestine

A. Population Growth in Palestine

There were only two censuses taken in Mandatory Palestine, in 1922 and in 1931. All other figures for population of mandatory Palestine are based on reported births and deaths and immigration. The Anglo-American survey of 1945 provides valuable additional data for population in that year, but it too is probably incomplete. Zionists point out that data after 1931 do not reflect illegal immigration of Arabs, as well as Jews, while pro-Palestinians believe that the census omitted many Bedouin and understates the Palestinian birthrate. Justin McCarthy asserts that the census of 1922 was done carelessly, and other Palestinian sources challenge the data from 1931. Unfortunately, there is no way to "correct" the values of a census that was done carelessly and there is no reason to assume a consistent bias in one or another direction. The 1922 and 1931 censuses have arbitrary estimates of the number of Bedouin in the Negev. The numbers were not based on actual census questionnaires. Moreover, these Bedouin were not sedentary. They moved between the Sinai, the Negev and what is now Transjordan. There is no way to know what percentage of this subpopulation could be said to be permanent residents of the Negev.

Jewish population during the mandate and immigration - The census of 1922 listed 83,790 Jews in Palestine. The census of 1931 listed 174,606. The Anglo-American report of 1946 listed 608,000 Jews in Palestine. According to the Israel Statistical Abstract, there were 716,000 Jews recorded in November 1948 and 758,000 recorded at the end of the year.  It is not possible to ascertain the actual number of Jews present at the birth of the state, but the number given is generally 650,000.  Considerably numbers of immigrants entered immediately after the state was declared. A net immigration of 216,000 Jews was recorded for 1930-1939. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, about 483,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine between 1919 and 1948.

Arab population and illegal immigration - The Anglo-American report of 1945 listed about 1,222,000 Muslim and Christian Arabs in Palestine and 15,000 "others." . The mandatory blue book reports for the 1920s estimated about 25,000 illegal Arab immigrants in total that were not recorded. The 1937 Mandatory report estimated about 25,000 legal Arab immigrants over the entire period.

In addition the report notes:

"5. There has been unrecorded illegal immigration both of Jews and of Arabs in the period since the census of 1931, but no estimate of its volume will be possible until the next census is taken."

The data concerning legal immigration of Arabs were also reported occasionally in the annual reports of the Mandatory submitted between 1923 and 1938) but  in a haphazard and obscurantist fashion.

The table below summarizes approximate population growth in Mandatory Palestine

Table 3: Approximate population growth in Mandatory Palestine



Total Moslems Jews Christians Others
(No.) (%) (No.) (%) (No.) (%) (No.) (%)
1922 Census 752,048 589,177 78.34 83,790 11.14 71,464 9.50 7,617 1.01
1931 Census 1,033,314 759,700 73.52 174,606 16.90 88,907 8.60 10,101 0.98
1937 Estimate 1,383,320 875,947 63.32 386,084 27.91  109,769 7.94 11,520 0.83
1945 Survey2 1,845,560 1,076,780 58.35 608,230  32.96  145,060 7.86 15,490 0.84
19471 Projection 1,955,260 1,135,269 58.06 650,000 33.24 153,621 7.86 16370 0.84

1. Figures for Jewish population were estimated to include immigration. 650,000 is the accepted number. Number of others were estimated based on average rates of increase in 1922-1945. The source http://www.palestineremembered.com/Acre/Maps/Story574.html gives the number 608,250 for 1945 as a revised survey figure and this number is generally accepted. However, table A-1 and others list the survey numbers as if they are for 1946 rather than 1945.

2. These widely quoted numbers are apparently likewise based on the official estimates and were not due to a special survey. A copy of the report (abridged) that is on the Web gives only figures for 1944 (not revised for Jewish illegal immigration and of course not revised for Arab illegal immigration, which has never been estimated). It states:


4. According to official estimates, the population of Palestine grew from 750,000 at the census of 1922 to 1,765,000 at the end of 1944. In this period the Jewish part of the population rose from 84,000 to 554,000, and from 13 to 31 percent of the whole. Three-fourths of this expansion of the Jewish community was accounted for by immigration. Meanwhile the Arabs, though their proportion of the total population was falling, had increased by an even greater number-the Moslems alone from 589,000 to 1,061,000.* 

It seems likely that the Survey supplement numbers are from 1945, the year when the survey was done, and not from 1946 as is often stated. The reason is that in the body of the survey, prepared before these data were available, it gives figures for 1944 as quoted above. Projecting a birthrate of about 30.7 would give figures larger than the above for 1945, and certainly for 1946.

Table 4: Palestine Mandate: Growth of Non-Jewish population from 1922 - 1937

The  report of the mandatory for 1937 lists population calculated according to the two census and according to estimates of population made based on immigration, emigration births and deaths in intervening years. No allowance is made for illegal immigration in these figures. These figures are given in the table below, along with calculated rates of increase for each year.

 Year Muslims % Christians % Total "Arabs" % Others % Jews %
1922 589,177   71,464   660,641   7,617   83,790  
1923 609,331 3.421 72,090 0.876 681,421 3.145 7,908 3.820 89,660 7.006
1924 627,660 3.008 74,094 2.780 701,754 2.984 8,263 4.489 94,945 5.894
1925 641,494 2.204 75,512 1.914 717,006 2.173 8,507 2.953 121,725 28.206
1926 663,613 3.448 76,467 1.265 740,080 3.218 8,782 3.233 149,500 22.818
1927 680,725 2.579 77,880 1.848 758,605 2.503 8,921 1.583 149,789 0.193
1928 695,280 2.138 79,812 2.481 775,092 2.173 9,203 3.161 151,656 1.246
1929 712,343 2.454 81,776 2.461 794,119 2.455 9,443 2.608 156,481 3.182
1930 733,149 2.921 84,986 3.925 818,135 3.024 9,628 1.959 164,796 5.314
1931 753,812 2.818 87,870 3.394 841,682 2.878 10,024 4.113 172,028 4.388
1932 771,174 2.303 90,624 3.134 861,798 2.390 10,281 2.564 180,793 5.095
1933 789,980 2.439 95,165 5.011 885,145 2.709 10,532 2.441 209,207 15.716
1934 807,180 2.177 99,532 4.589 906,712 2.437 10,746 2.032 253,700 21.267
1935 826,457 2.388 103,371 3.857 929,828 2.549 10,896 1.396 320,358 26.274
1936 848,342 2.648 106,474 3.002 954,816 2.687 11,219 2.964 370,483 15.647
1937 875,947 3.254 109,769 3.095 985,716 3.236 11,520 2.683 386,084 4.211
Average Increase  2.680   2.909   2.704   2.800   11.097

The numbers in  Table 4, given in the Mandatory report of 1937, are only in approximate agreement with numbers reported by the mandatory for the same years elsewhere. The differences are apparently random. For example, for 1928, the above table lists  79,812 Christians, but the 1928 Mandatory report listed only 78,463. On the other hand, the mandatory report lists only 753,812 Muslims for 1931, but the census listed a total of about 759,000 or 761,000 (depending on whether you take the Statesman's Yearbook figures or British mandate figures)

The above series has unexplained fluctuations in annual increase of Christian and Muslim populations that could be due to immigration, or to undercounting and padding to make figures agree with census data, or other errors. For example, in 1933, the number of Christians is shown to increase by over 5% in a single year, an increase that might be accounted for by immigration. A note in an earlier mandatory report indicates that many Palestinians who had immigrated to the United States returned because of the severity of the depression. In 1923, the numbers recorded for Muslim Arabs represent a 3.4% increase over the census of the previous year, while those for Christian Arabs represent an increase of only 0.876%.

Population increase versus natural increase - Chapter 4 of the Anglo-American Survey of 1945 gives the following table for natural increase. As usual when dealing with mandatory data, there are unexplained lacunae:

Table 5: Palestine Mandate: Average Annual Rate of Natural Increase  per 1,000

Years Moslems Jews Christians
1922/25 28.27 20.44 20.18
1928/30 26.19 22.70 20.00
1931/35 24.97 20.91 20.85
1936/40 27.68 17.75 20.77
1941/44 30.71 17.83 18.89

The natural "increase" numbers are somewhat suspicious.  Beginning with the figures of the 1922 census, and using the natural increase figures to determine the population, we would have 1,061,464 Muslims in 1944 instead of 1,061,000, a close agreement. However, the Anglo-American survey indicated that there were 19,000 Muslim immigrants in addition between 1922 and 1944, and presumably some of these immigrants would have had children,  so the numbers are about 30,000 below what they should be. Even so, the rates of "natural increase" for 1941-44 are suspiciously high, as though the data were "fixed" to give larger numbers. For Christians, the survey data of 1945 give 145,060, but the natural increase data would give only about 113,2200, suggesting a net immigration of perhaps 20,000 or 25,000 between 1922 and 1945, plus offspring.

Discrepancies in reported Data

The last year for which we have census data is 1931. The census figures are reported differently in different sources, but the variations are minor. They are in fair agreement with British Mandatory report data listed in the 1937 Report of the Mandatory for 1931. The Report of the mandatory listed about 753,000 Muslims for 1931, while the census figures are quoted as giving 759,000 or 761,000. The data follow approximately  from the published birthrates. Other estimates of Arab population are somewhat different. McCarthy's figure apparently includes Druze, and the figure in Table A-1 may include only Muslims.

Table 6: Estimates of Arab Population of Mandatory Palestine in 1930-31

Census McCarthy Table A-11
848,607 860,000 763,000

1 Data are for 1930

Population of Arabs in 1948 Israel and Number of Refugees

The number of  Arabs residing in Palestine as citizens in 1948 and consequently the number of refugees, is a matter of controversy.

McCarthy  (article in Encyclopedia of the Palestinians, Philip Mattar Ed. posted at the Palestine Remembered Web site ) states the following:

Of the 1,358,000 Palestinian Arab citizens of Palestine in 1948, approximately 873;600 resided within what would become the Israeli borders, 485,000 without. The Israelis recorded 156,000 non-Jews in 1948, a number that included perhaps 1,000 non-Arabs, leaving 155,000 Palestinians in Israel. This means that 718,000 Palestinians either were refugees or died during the war. Note that this number depends on the somewhat imprecise estimation of the numbers who lived on both sides of the border before the war, and so should be taken as a mean estimate. However, statistically it cannot be wrong by more than 5 to 10 percent (for other analyses, see Khalidi, 1992; Bachi, 1977).

The above estimates which according to McCarthy "cannot be wrong by more than 5 to 10 percent" probably overestimate the population within the area of Israel by about 20% as we shall see. The 156,000 "non-Jews" recorded by the Israelis included about 15,000 Druze. McCarthy counts these apparently in all statistics though he writes:

" all non-citizens, as well as non-Druze listed along with the Druze under the category "Other" in the British data, should be excluded."

If he did not count the Druze, then how else could he report 860,000 Arabs in 1931, when the census reported less than 849,000? The extra 10,000 Druze seem to make up the discrepancy.

The above numbers are based on the assumption of McCarthy that the Mandate figures for mortality and fertility were wrong. So he has corrected by "fudge factors." If indeed the mandate numbers for fertility and mortality were wrong, the numbers found in the Census of 1931 would have been very different from the estimates given in previous years. They were not.

A confusion has arisen about the number of refugees originally reported by the UN. Some Zionists cite a figure as low as 472,000. That number is an interim estimate, not a final figure. It comes from a progress report by UN Mediator Ralph Bunche, published Oct. 18, 1948.

The number 726,000 comes from an economic survey final report published Dec. 28, 1949, by the UN Conciliation Commission. The document is available in PDF format. That is the figure McCarthy used. But In its report A/1367/Rev.1, dated Oct. 23, 1950, the U.N. Conciliation Commission revised the 726,000 estimate down to 711,000. It stated:

15. The estimate of the statistical expert, which the Committee believes to be as accurate as circumstances permit, indicates that the refugees from Israel-controlled territory amount to approximately 711,000. The fact that there is a higher number of relief recipients appears to be due among other things to duplication of ration cards, addition of persons who have been displaced from areas other than Israel-held areas and of persons who, although not displaced, are destitute.

In fact, there was probably no way to determine precisely how many refugees there were for the reasons cited above, and because of addition of non-Palestinian Arabs who where also destitute and "displaced from areas other than Israel held areas" (or not displaced at all) or persons who "although not displaced, are destitute." There is always a large supply of persons who are destitute in this part of the world, but that is not related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In theory, we could determine the number of refugees by taking the original Palestinian Arab population figures for 1948, and subtracting from them the number of those who remained in each town in Israel. This is one way for example, in which the number of Jewish Holocaust victims was estimated. However, we do not have accurate data either for the original 1948 population or for the number of persons remaining in each village, town and city. The latter could be provided by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics. Their claim is that based on that type of analysis, there were about 500,000 refugees, which seems too low.

Palestine was divided into districts and subdistricts, and the data of the 1945 survey provide population figures by subdistrict. The population of each village and town is likewise known for 1944. Therefore we can estimate the population of Arabs who were in the areas that eventually formed the State of Israel within the borders of the "Green Line" armistice, though McCarthy claims that this is not possible

A map of the subdistricts used in 1946 is shown at right, with the borders of 1948 superimposed (green line), and some major towns in Red. Palestine had been redistricted since 1931, so that the Bethlehem and Jericho districts were abolished and incorporated into the Jerusalem district.

By using data of the 1945 (or 1946) survey and multiplying by a factor to allow for population increase in 1945- 1948, we can arrive at some estimates of total Arab (Christian and Muslim) population of Palestine. The total given in the Anglo-American Survey was  1,221,840, of which 1,076,780 were Muslims and 145,060 were Christians. Assuming a 3% annual growth rate (an overestimate because it includes both the Muslim and Christian populations, we would have 1,335,105 in 1948, which is very close to the total figure for all of Palestine given by McCarthy and can be accepted as correct. However, his estimate of 873,600 for the population residing within Israel is not necessarily correct.

Map of Subdistricts of Mandatory Palestine and Borders of Israel

Table 7 gives the Arab population of districts that became part of Israel, the number of Arabs (excluding Druze) remaining in Israel at the end of 1948 as given by the Israel Central bureau of Statistics and the calculated number of possible refugees. The data can only be approximate and we must stress that this is not a full and veridical picture. The data are taken from Web pages of the Palestine Remembered Web site. One page gives the total population of each district according to the Anglo-American survey that was done in 1945 or 1946. However, some districts were not included entirely in Israel. For these districts the population figures listed for each town in 1944 were used, as given in individual pages at the Palestine Remembered Web site, which are linked from the index page. Unfortunately, it seems that this site doesn't list all the towns. and we cannot be sure that it is accurate. In the second column are the estimated populations of these districts in mid 1948. These estimates were obtained by multiplying survey data by 109.27%, (1.0927) ( assuming that the data were for 1945 or early 1946, and multiplying the 1944 population data for towns by 112.55% (1.1255). These factors represent 3% annual growth for 3 years and four years respectively. We cannot know with certainty that the data presented by the Palestine Remembered Web site for the five districts partially included in Israel are complete or are intended to be complete. The sum of their figures is 120,999. The entire population of the five subdistricts was 527,000 according to the survey data. 

Table 7: Palestine: Estimate of Arab Population and Refugees in 1949 Borders of Israel

Subdistrict . 1944/51 19482
Safad  48,940 53,477
Acre  62,930 68,764
Tiberias  26,410 28,858
Beisan 17,340 18,947
Nazareth  41,930 45,817
Haifa 129,680 141,701
Jaffa  113,770 124,316
Ramla  101,430 110,833
Beersheba 6,480 7,081
Gaza 3 59,900 67,417
Hebron 3 19,820 22,307
Jerusalem3 24,700 27,800
Jenin3 7,759 8,733
Tulkarm3 8,820 9,927
Total 669,909 735,978
Arabs in Israel 19484   141,500
Refugees5   594,478


1. 1945 figures are from the Palestine Survey for entire subdistricts. 1944 figures are the sum of populations of each village and town in partial subdistricts. In some cases the figures include  "other" populations such as Bahai and Druze who did not become refugees in appreciable numbers.

2. The estimates were arrived by assuming a population growth of 3% per annum, and providing for 3 years of growth for survey figures, and four years of growth for partial subdistricts.

3. These districts were not incorporated into Israel as a whole, and therefore only the population of villages and towns listed by Palestine Remembered is given. This gives villages with as few as 20 people. In only a few cases of tiny villages, population was marked "not available." Palestine Remembered has assured me that these figures are intended to be complete and accurate within reason. However, it has been pointed out that some towns such as Majdal in Gaza district may not be listed at all. Nonetheless, demographers of the Israel government who used the same method arrived at an even lower number. See Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem 1947-1949, Cambridge University Press, 1988, Appendix I. According to that appendix, the total official number of "non-Jewish persons living in the part of Palestine that became Israel was given by the British as 725,000, That is about 10,000 less  than the number projected above. Of those "non-Jews" there were about 14,000 Druze. However, at the time the Israel census bureau estimated that only about 102,000 non-Jews (Arabs and Druze) remained in Palestine, rather than the 156,000 listed currently for 1949 by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. That would have given a larger total than we have. The Israeli officials, according to Morris, simply assumed for some reason that the British value was 6% too large, and so they arrived at an even lower total than the one given in Table 7. The British analysis of refugees, which added 95,000 Bedouins (no proof is offered of their existence) in the Negev, and hypothetical illegal immigrant Arabs, arrived at a total of 711,000 refugees according to Morris and references. 

4. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics figures for November 1948 estimated 156,000 non-Jews in Israel. For 1949 they listed 158,000 non-Jews on average during the year. Of these about 14,500 were separately identified as Druze by the end of the year. The figures for "Arabs" quoted by Palestine Remembered may or may not include Druze.

5,. As noted, the table may underestimate population of individual districts where only parts of the district were incorporated into Israel, because no figures are given for some towns in Palestine Remembered. On the other hand, it is probable that the original population was smaller than the estimate.

Table 7 indicates that there might have been about 736,000 Arabs in the area that became Israel in 1948, and that about 595,000 may have become refugees . Allowing about 5% for additional population growth in 1948 and 1949, we might estimate 620,000 refugees. According to the  figures cited by McCarthy, the number of refugees was very much larger. He estimated 718,000 refugees in 1948, and he cites the UNRWA as estimating 726,000 refugees. Note that the calculations of Table 7 assume that the estimates of the British Survey were in fact for 1945 or early 1946, and not for end of year 1946 as is apparently assumed by Palestine Remembered. The numbers found by the survey are only a small percentage above the numbers found by the 1945 British Village Statistics book, even if we exclude the vast decrease in Beersheba (about 1.8% average growth without Beersheva). The Village Statistics (Vilstat) of 1945 provides figures for end of year 1944.  If the numbers were really for 1946, we would have to subtract about 3% from the above estimates. The difference cannot be made up from the numbers of Bedouin, because Bedouin did not become refugees, and because as shall be shown, the population figures apparently included most of the Bedouin.

By 1950, according to McCarthy (his Table 3), UNRWA estimated 914,221 Arab refugees plus 45,000 Jewish refugees. This number could not have occurred by population growth since 1948. Elsewhere, UNRWA estimates that there were only 870,000 refugees in 1953, a number that is more in line with realistic possibilities. It is impossible to understand how they arrived at the larger figure of 914,221 in 1950, based on the actual UNRWA estimate of 870,000 in 1953.

Assuming that the UN number of 726,000 is the correct figure in 1948, it would mean that by 1950 there were 126% of the original numbers cited by the UN. No matter what fantastic values are assumed for Palestinian fertility rates, this increase is impossible. No population increases at the rate of 12% per annum. Israel did expel small numbers of Arabs from Majdal, Isdood and other areas after the war, but they could not make up this huge number. If there had been 726,000 refugees in 1948, there would be 841,000 in 1953 using a 3% annual growth rate. However, this number would be even smaller if the probably more accurate estimate of 711,000 refugees is used. It is almost certain that refugee figures reflect a constant accretion of fake duplicate ration cards and of persons who "although not displaced, are destitute" - meaning infiltration of locals into the ranks of refugees.

Estimate of Internal Migration of Population in Mandatory Palestinee

The 1931 census, like the 1946 survey, gave  the population by subdistricts. These subdistricts were slightly different, since Jerusalem included Jericho and Bethlehem in 1946, but not in 1931, and there may have been other minor changes, but for the most part we can assume that the districts were similar. Therefore we can arrive at some conclusions regarding the increase in Arab population in different areas that were or were not settled by Jews.

Table 8: Palestine: Growth of Arab population in Jewish and non-Jewish Subdistricts

Subdistrict Total Moslems Jews Christians Others Arabs 1945 Arabs 1931 %Arab increment %Jews
High % of Jews              
Jaffa  409,290 95,980 295,160 17,790 360 113,770 75,713 50 72
Haifa  253,450 95,970 119,020 33,710 4,750 129,680 72,105 80 47
Jerusalem  253,270 104,460 102,520 46,130 160 150,590 105,046 43 40
Tiberias  41,470 23,940 13,640 2,470 1,420 26,410 19,190 38 33
Beisan 24,950 16,660 7,590 680 20 17,340 13,173 32 30
Ramla 134,030 95,590 31,590 5,840 10 101,430 62,083 63 24
Tulkarm  93,2200 76,460 16,180 380 20 76,840 45,662 68 17
Nazareth  49,910 30,160 7,980 11,770 ---- 41,930 25,420 65 16
Total 1,259,590 539,220 593,680 118,770 6,740 657,990 418,392 57 47
Low % of Jews("non-Jewish")            
Safad  56,9700 47,310 7,170 1,630 860 48,940 36,035 36 13
Acre  73,600 51,130 3,030 11,800 7,640 62,930 44,846 40 4
Gaza  150,540 145,700 3,540 1,300 ---- 147,000 94,213 56 2
Hebron 93,120 92,640 300 170 10 92,810 67,496 38 0
Ramallah  48,9300 40,520 0 8,410 ---- 48,930 39,061 25 0
Nablus  94,600 92,810 0 1,560 230 94,370 68,696 37 0
Jenin  61,2100 60,000 0 1,210 ---- 61,210 41,407 48 0
Beersheba  7,000 6,270 510 210 10 6,480 51,094 -87% 7
Total 585,970 536,380 14,550 26,290 8,750 562,670 442,848 27 2
Total  1945 1,845,560 1,075,600 608,230 145,060 15,490 1,220,660 861,240 42 33

As shown in Table 8, areas of Jewish settlement had a growth of 57% in Arab population between 1931 and 1945, while in those with few or no Jewish settlers, the growth of Palestinian Arab population was 27% in that period. Overall, the Palestinian Arab population grew by 42% from 1931 to 1945. Among the urban areas  Haifa had the highest growth rate, probably due to British port activity. There was a shift in population from the south and urban centers to the North. Ramla, Haifa, Tulqarm, Nazareth, Jerusalem and Jaffa had the highest growth rates.   Excluding Beersheba district, where the census figures show a net loss of Arab population, the total Arab population of the non-Jewish areas (those with a low percentage of Jewish population)   was 56,190 in 1945 versus 391,754 in 1931 or 42% more, about the same as the overall average.


Therefore we cannot conclude that Jewish settlement displaced Arabs. Jewish settlement may have attracted Arabs, so that in the areas that eventually became Israel in all probability  there were more Arabs than there would have been without Jewish settlement. Another explanation is that the urban areas attracted Jewish settlers and Arabs because of better standard of living and employment opportunity. Health conditions were probably somewhat better in these areas as well. Note that Table 8 is not divided according to areas that did or did not become part of Israel. Therefore the data should not be misused to claim that a large number of Arabs present in Israel in 1948 had migrated from the non-Jewish areas of the West Bank and Gaza. Beersheba district, which became part of Israel, lost about 45,000 Arabs between 1931 and 1945, if we believe the survey.

The importance of the above is that it shows that rather than "dispossessing" or displacing the Arabs of Palestine, Zionist settlement apparently attracted them. The claim of dispossession is examined in detail in Zionism and its Impact..

Bedouin Population Statistics in Palestine

In the reports of the Mandatory for 1927, 1928 and 1929 there is a note in the population statistics that states:

*No figures are included for the nomadic Bedouin population, which in 1922 was estimated at 103,000.

No other reports of the Mandatory posted by the United Nations included detailed population statistics of that type, though summary statistics and immigration were reported periodically.  This note has given rise to the idea, repeated in several sources, that Bedouin estimated at 100,000 in 1922 were not counted in any of the population data. However, the values for Muslim population given in these three notes in 1927 - 1929 are far below the 1922 census value of  589,000, and very far below the projected population growth that had to have taken place based on reported birthrates. Table 9 gives the projections for Muslim population based on the 1922 census and using the birthrates published in the Palestine Survey of 1946, the projections for Bedouin population using the same birthrates, and the difference between the two, which is the projected settled Muslim population. The last column gives the actual reported Muslim population in those years, which is a fair match for the projected figures. This seems to show that the census data and other values published as the number of Muslim Arabs in Palestine apparently included the Bedouin population. At least, we have no reason to think otherwise, and we have no other explanation for the low figures reported in the 1927-1929 Mandatory reports.. The total projected figures for Muslim population are about 13,000 below the actual census figures for 1931 which is fair agreement if we allow for migration and for various errors.

Table 9: Reported versus projected values for Muslim population in 1927-1929 

Year  Projected based on 1922 Census  Reported
Total Muslim
1927 677,301 118,406 558,895


1928 692,892 121,132 571,761


1929 710,824 124,266 586,558


Using the base of 103,000 Bedouin in 1922 and published birthrate figures for Muslims, there would have been 197,000 Bedouin in Palestine in 1948. This seems unlikely. In fact, in 1931, the district officer of the Beersheba subdistrict, Aref-El-Aref, who later achieved fame for writing a history of Palestine, estimated that there were 51,000 inhabitants in the district, including Bedouin.  These numbers were carried forward and multiplied by a "factor" in the successive British population figures, until the Anglo-American survey, which could not find any Bedouin in the Negev, or else didn't look for them. The Bedouin population decreased either because they became settled and absorbed into the rest of the population or because they moved away, or because they had never existed for the most part, and were simply figures fabricated by Aref-El Aref. There is no way to know what percent of the 103,000 figure of 1922 were actual residents of the Negev, as the Bedouin moved between the Negev, the Sinai and what is now southern Jordan. The borders imposed by the British and the strict control of the borders, as well as changes in the economy of the region, worked against the nomadic way of life. Many former Negev Bedouin must have remained in the much larger deserts in Sinai and neighboring Jordan, while others migrated north and settled down.  

Since the population increase tracks the birthrate only if we include these numbers, this suggests that the shortfall might have been made up in part by unregistered immigrants who somehow came to be included in the census. This would be the case, for example, for wives acquired outside Palestine. Alternatively, the shortfall may be explained by the fact that Bedouin became sedentary and came to be included in the yearly counts. In modern Israel, nomadic Bedouin population has generally varied from 50-80,000. In any case, it is hard to see how the existence of uncounted Bedouin would affect Palestine population statistics at different times. Those Bedouin who are not counted in any census very probably were not permanent residents of Palestine, and weren't counted either as refugees, or in the British or Ottoman figures, or in the Israeli figures.

The Population of Jerusalem in Ottoman and British Times

The population of Jerusalem has been a matter of contention because of respective Jewish and Arab claims to the city. We must be careful to emphasize that the focus must be on the population of the city of Jerusalem within municipal boundaries, or of the population of "greater Jerusalem" including the the immediately surrounding Arab villages and neighborhoods such as Deir Yassin, Lifta, Beit Safafa etc. The population of the district of Jerusalem (approximately corresponding to Qouds in the Ottoman Empire) is irrelevant. The latter included a much wider area that encompassed Jericho, Bethlehem and other separate towns and villages. According to the Anglo-American Survey of 1946, the population of the city of Jerusalem in 1946 was made up as given in Table 10 below.

There was a plurality of Jews in Jerusalem in the late 19th century, but perhaps not a majority. Ottoman census figures underestimated the number of Jews, many of whom remained foreign nationals.  However, we can be fairly confident that there has been a Jewish majority in the municipal boundaries of  Jerusalem since before the beginning of the twentieth century.


Table 10 - Population of Jerusalem until 1945

Year Total Muslim Jewish Christian % Jews
18441 15,510 5,000 7,120 3,390 45.9
18762 25,030 7,560 12,000 5,470 47.9
18962 45,420 8,560 28,112 8,748 61.9
19223 52,081 13,411  33,971 4,699 65.2
19313 90,451 19,894 51,222 19,335 56.6
19454 164,330 33,680 99,320 31,330 60.4

1. This figure is quoted widely on the Web and is apparently the Ottoman census figure. It is given for example here

2. John Oesterreicher and Anne Sinai, eds., Jerusalem, (NY: John Day, 1974), p. 1

3. British Mandate Census of 1922 and 1931

4. Anglo American Survey, 1945

In the subdistrict of Jerusalem within the Jerusalem district, the picture is different. The subdistrict included villages such as Lifta and Ein Karem that might properly belong as suburbs of Jerusalem, but it also included towns that were outside the "greater Jerusalem area" at least at the time. The subdistrict further included Bethlehem, Jericho and surroundings, which are scarcely relevant to describing the population of Jerusalem proper.   In that whole area there were 132,600 persons in 1931, of which 78,000 were Arabs. The 1946 Anglo-American survey found about 150,00 Arabs in the  Jerusalem subdistrict, and about 102,000 Jews.

Ami Isseroff

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Some additional tables and notes for mandatory and Ottoman Palestine are below.

The following widely quoted table was supposedly compiled from various sources (see notes) and appeared in an article by Arjan El Fassad and Lauri King Irani at electronicintifada.net/historicalmyths/nosuchthing.html (no longer posted) and it had a wide circulation in various pro-Palestinian Web sites. It may be that it was deliberately constructed to mislead people. There is no attribution of a particular number to a particular source, and some of the figures conflict with published census data. The footnote that was appended to the table states, "The numbers in this table are estimates constructed from the following.." In other words, there is no guarantee that the numbers in the table are the same as those of the authors cited. Rather, they are "estimates" constructed from the references cited, based on criteria that are not stated.

Note added in 2007: These figures are presented to illustrate problems in reporting of population, which are often intentional distortions for propaganda purposes. It is ironic that people have quoted these dubious figures to support nationalist claims.

Table A-1 Estimated Population of Palestine 1870-1946

Attributed to electronicintifada.net/historicalmyths/nosuchthing.html Arjan El Fassed and Lauri King Irani

Year Arabs %  Jews % Total

* Figures are rounded.
Sources: The numbers in this table are estimates constructed from the following: Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, "The Population of the Large Towns in Palestine During the First Eighty Years of the Nineteenth Century, According to Western Sources" in Moshe Ma'oz, ed. Studies on Palestine during the Ottoman Period, Magnus, 1975; Alexander Scholch, "The Demographic Development of Palestine 1850-1882", International Journal of Middle East Studies, XII, 4, November 1985, pp. 485-505; "Palestine", Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edn, 1911; "Palestine", Encyclopedia of Islam, 1964; UN Document A/AC 14/32, 11 November 1947, p.304; Justin McCarthy, "The Population of Ottoman Syria and Iraq, 1878-1914", Asian and African Studies, XV, 1 March 1981; Kemal Karpat, "Ottoman Population Records and the Census of 1881/82-1893", International Journal of Middle East Studies, XCI, 2, 1978; Bill Farell, "Review of Joan Peters", 'From Time Immemorial', Journal of Palestine Studies, 53, Fall 1984, pp. 126-34; Walid Khalidi, From Heaven to Conquest: Readings in Zionism and the Palestine Problem until 1948, Institute for Palestine Studies, 1971 appendix I; Janet L. Abu Lughod, "The Demographic Transformation of Palestine", in Ibrahim Abu Lughod, ed., The Transformation of Palestine: Essays on the Origin and Development of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Northwestern University Press, 1971 pp. 139-63.

It must be understood that the figures in the above table are estimates. The figures for "1946" are actually the figures of the 1945 Anglo-American survey report. There was no census in most of the years given in the table above, and likewise in the estimates given below for Mandate population. However, the estimates for mandatory Palestine are in fair agreement. The table gives 1.478 million total population in 1940, while the Esco figures estimate 1,544,530 for the same year. There is no explanation for the fact that 1930 figures are larger than the census figures of 1931.

Population Growth Estimates under the Mandate

These estimates are based primarily on the reports of the British Mandate for Palestine and the Mandatory censuses, conducted in 1922 and 1931. All figures following 1931 are estimates. There was an unknown amount of Arab and Jewish illegal immigration, which could only be estimated by the British authorities.

Source: http://www.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/80859e/80859E05.htm

Table A-2 Population of Palestine, 1922-1942a,b

Year Total Moslems Jews Christians Others
(No.) (%) (No.) (%) (No.) (%) (No.) (%)
1922 Census 752,048 589,177 78.34 83,790 11.14 71,464 9.50 7,617 1.01
1931 Census 1,033,314 759,700 73.52 174,606 16.90 88,907 8.60 10,101 0.98
1931c 1,036,339 761,922 73.52 175,138 16.90 89,134 8 60 10,145 0.98
1932 1,073,827 778,803 72.52 192,137 17.90 92,520 8.61 10,367 0.97
1933 1,140,941 798,506 69.99 234,967 20.59 96,791 8.48 10,677 0.94
1934 1,210,554 814,379 67.27 282,975 23.38 102,407 8.46 10,793 0.89
1935 1,308,112 836,688 63.96 355,157 27.15 105,236 8.04 11,031 0.85
1936 1,366,692 862,730 63.13 384,078 28.10 108,506 7.94 11,378 0.83
1937 1,401,794 883,446 63.02 395,836 28.24 110,869 7.91 11,643 0.83
1938 1,435,285 900,250 62.72 411,222 28.65 111,974 7.80 11,839 0.83
1939 1,501,698 927,133 61.74 445,457 29.66 116,958 7.79 12,150 0.81
1940 1,544,530 947,846 61.37 463,535 30.01 120,587 7.81 12,562 0.81
1941 1,585,500 973,104 61.38 474,102 29.90 125,413 7.91 12,881 0.81
1942 1,620,005 995,292 61.44 484,408 29.90 127,184 7.85 13,121 0.81

Source: Esco Foundation (1947). (see http://www.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/80859e/80859E05.htm )
a. Exclusive of members of His Majesty's Forces (Great Britain).
b. Adapted from table, "Estimated Population of Palestine," Statistical Abstract of Palestine 1943, p. 2.
c. The figures for 1931 and following years are as of 31 December of each year.

Table A-3 Recorded immigration and emigration, Palestine, 1930-1939

Year Immigration Emigration Net immigration
Jews Non-Jews Total Jews Non-Jews Total Jews Non-Jews Total
1930 4,944 1,489 6,433 1,679 1,324 3,003 3,265 165 3,430
1931 4,075 1,458 5,533 666 680 1,346 3,409 778 4,187
1932 9,553 1,736 11,289 xa x x 9,553 1,736 11,289
1933 30,327 1,650 31,977 x x x 30,327 1,650 31,977
1934 42,359 1,784 44,143 x x x 42,359 1,784 44,143
1935 61,854 2,293 64,147 396 387 783 61,458 1,906 63,364
1936 29,727 1,944 31,671 773 405 1,178 28,954 1,539 30,493
1937 10,536 1,939 12,475 889 639 1,528 9,647 1,300 10,947
1938 12,868 2,395 15,263 1,095 716 1,811 11,773 1,679 13,452
1939 16,405 2,028 18,433 1,019 977 1,996 15,386 1,051 16,437
Total 222,648 18,716 241,364 6,517 5,128 11,645 216,131 13,588 229,719

Source: Esco Foundation (1947). (see http://www.unu.edu/unupress/unupbooks/80859e/80859E05.htm
a. "x" indicates that emigration was not reported.

The following tables were given in the reports of the Mandatory for the years 1927-1929 for birth and mortality statistics by population group.


  Christians. Moslems. Jews. Others. Total.
*Population ... ... ... ... 76,839 545,225 147,687 8,618 778,369
Deaths... ... ... ... ... 1,545 18,031 1,987 243 21,806
Deaths per 1,000 of population... 20.1 33.07 13.45 28.19 28.01
Births... ... ... ... ... 2,991 30.586 5,182 434 39,193
Births per 1,000 of population... 38.92 56.09 35.08 50.35 50.35
Deaths of Infants under 1 year of age ... ... ... 560 6,631 598 68 7,857
Infantile Mortality Rate... ... 187.22 216.79 115.79 153.68 200.46

1 Report of the Mandatory, 1927


  Christians. Moslems. Jews. Others. Total.
*Population ... ... ... ... 78,463 557,649 149,554 8,850 794,516
Deaths... ... ... ... ... 1,486 19,575 1,830


186 23,077
Deaths per 1,000 of population... 18.93 35.1








Births... ... ... ... ... 3,172 34,011 5,308






Births per 1,000 of population... 40.42 60.98








Deaths of Infants under 1 year of age ... ... ... 499 6,921 514 49 7,983


Infantile Mortality Rate... ... 157.31 203.49




121.28 186



2. Report of the Mandatory, 1928


  Christians. Moslems. Jews. Others. Total.
Population* ... ... ... ... 80,225 572,443 154,330 9,066 816,064
Deaths... ... ... ... ... 1,439 18,133 1,820 242 21,634
Deaths per 1,000 of population... 17.93 31.67 11.79 26.69 26.51
Births... ... ... ... ... 3,036 33,053 5,257 396 41,742
Births per 1,000 of population... 37.84 57.74 34.06 43.67 51.15
Deaths of Infants under 1 year of age ... ... ... 473 6,775 472 66 7,786
Infantile Mortality Rate... ... 155.8 204.97 89.78 166.66 186.52
Natural Increase per 1,000of the population ... ... 19.9 26.06 22.27 16.98 24.64

3. Report of the Mandatory, 1929


Illegal Immigration in the 1930s

Under the pressures of the Arab revolt, the British government in Palestine reduced immigration quotas and  took stricter measures to control illegal immigration beginning in 1938, as well as to curtail Jewish immigration. The excerpt of the mandate report of 1938 below shows that in fact, most of the illegal immigrants apprehended that were reported at different times  were not Jewish, but "others." (the entire report of the mandatory is here:

( http://domino.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/cc68bab76ec42e79052565d0006f2df4?OpenDocument target = "n"

36. Jewish immigrants to the number of 12,868 were registered during the year. Of these, 1,753 were capitalist immigrants whose dependants numbered 1,722, 2,537 were students whose maintenance in an approved educational institution is assured, 2,573 were persons coming to employment whose dependants numbered 1,662, and 2,565 were dependants of residents of Palestine.
37. The Palestine Government has continued to take measures to check illegal immigration through the agency of His Majesty's Consular Officers abroad, by control arrangements at the ports and frontiers and by the employment of special preventive forces by land and sea.
Illicit immigration through the northern frontier is being more effectively controlled as the result of the construction of the frontier fence and frontier road and the employment of a special force of police in this area .The improvement of the existing control of illicit immigration by sea by the establishment of an organized coast guard service was under consideration at the end of the year.
38. Seven hundred and fifty-two persons, including 103 Jews who entered Palestine surreptitiously during 1935, were later detected, sentenced to imprisonment and recommended for deportation. Seven hundred and thirty-three deportations were carried out during the year, comprising 30 Jews and 703 other persons.

Seven Jewish and twelve other travellers were deported for overstaying their period of permitted stay in the country. In addition, 1,111 persons were summarily deported to Syria and Egypt.Towards the close of the year illicit immigration of Jews from countries of Central and Eastern Europe appeared to be on the increase, doubtless as a result of the further deterioration in the political, social and economic situation of Jews in those countries.

Population and Land Ownership prior to the UN Partition Resolution

An Anglo-American commission of inquiry in 1945 and 1946 examined the status of Palestine. No official census figures were available, as no census had been conducted in Palestine in 1940, so all their surmises and figures are based on extrapolations and surmises. According to the report, at the end of 1946, About 1,220,000 Arabs and 608,000 Jews resided within the borders of Mandate Palestine. Jews had purchased 6 to 8 percent of the total land area of Palestine. This was about 20% of the land that could be settled and cultivated. About 46% of the land was registered in the tax registers to Arab villages, to Arabs living on the land,  or absentee owners, and about the same amount was government land. However, most of this land was not privately owned. The Arabs of Palestine had received much of their land in leases conditional upon cultivation or used land that was part of village commons.  The partition borders were drawn to give the Jews a majority within the allotted area of the Jewish state, but the  land conquered during the fighting included the populous Arab areas of the Galilee, as well as Arab towns such as Lod and Ramla. Greater Jerusalem, which was to be internationalized, included about 100,000 Jews and a larger number of  Arabs.

Yehoshua Porath on Joan Peters and the Population of Palestine

(from http://www.nybooks.com/articles/5172 )


The main flaw in Mrs. Peters's arguments, which Mr. Sanders seems to accept, is her statement (in Mr. Sanders's words) "that in 1893 about 92,000 non-Jews were living in the main area of Jewish settlement; alongside a Jewish population that she gives as just under 60,000." By 1947, she argues, the number of non-Jews in those areas had quintupled while in other areas of Palestine it only slightly more than doubled. This difference, in her view, can be accounted for only by the factor of Arab migration. But how did Mrs. Peters arrive at the number of the non-Jews in "the Jewish-settled areas" of Palestine for 1893? Her claim that there were about 92,000 non-Jews is made on page 250 of her book and the reader is referred there for the source to Appendix V. However, in the appendix no source is given. Only in the next appendix devoted to methodology does she claim that she used "Turkish census figures" (p. 427). But in the footnotes to chapters 10–12, where the composition of the Palestine population during the nineteenth century is discussed, no reference is made to the Ottoman archives where Mrs. Peters would, if she had consulted them, have found the returns of the Ottoman censuses of 1893 and 1915 that she uses in Appendix V.

The Ottoman census returns, in fact, were never published. Therefore Mrs. Peters could use them only by referring to a secondary source based on research in the Ottoman archives. And indeed that is the case with the article by Kemal Karpat quoted by Mrs. Peters and cited above. Karpat's figures are given, presumably as they appear in the Ottoman census returns, according to subdistricts (Kaza). It is impossible to ascertain from the figures he cites which of the Ottoman subdistricts of Palestine correspond to what Mrs. Peters defined as "the Jewish-settled areas" of Palestine. But one does find such a characterization of Ottoman subdistricts in the work by Vital Cuinet mentioned in Mr. Sanders's letter. And if one consults Cuinet's book to find where in Palestine, in 1893, 59,431 Jews (the number quoted by Mrs. Peters on page 251 of her book) were living, one finds that exactly the same number is given for the aggregate of Jews living in the seven subdistricts (Kaza) of Acre, Haifa, Tiberias, Safed, Nazareth, Jaffa, and Jerusalem. Consequently, we now know precisely what Peters defines as "the Jewish-settled areas"; she is evidently referring to the seven Ottoman subdistricts mentioned by Cuinet.

Now we must consider the number of non-Jews living in those areas. According to Mrs. Peters (again on page 251), and apparently Mr. Sanders accepts her view, they numbered about 92,300, of which nearly 38,000 were Christians (making the number of Muslims about 54,300). But the Ottoman census figures in Karpat's table (pages 262 and 271 of his article) give the number of Muslims as 158,379 and of the Christians as 39,884, making a total number of 198,263 non-Jews in "the Jewish settled areas." If we use Cuinet's own figures we still do not get an estimate of the non-Jewish population that brings us much closer to the number of non-Jews claimed by Mrs. Peters. According to Cuinet's data on the seven Ottoman subdistricts comprising "the Jewish-settled areas" we have 124,686 Muslims and 61,964 Christians, a total of 186,263 non-Jews.[3]

Obviously, these figures are more than double the figure of 92,000 non-Jews given in Mrs. Peters's book. One could argue that the actual area defined by Mrs. Peters as "the Jewish-settled areas" is smaller than the total area covered by the seven subdistricts listed above, and the map published on page 246 of her book indicates such a possibility. But if this were the case, nowhere in her main text or in the methodological appendices (V and VI) did Mrs. Peters bother to explain to her readers how she managed to break down the Ottoman or Cuinet's figures into smaller units than subdistricts. As far as I know no figures for the units smaller than subdistricts (Nahia; the parallel of the French commune), covering the area of Ottoman Palestine, were ever published. Therefore I can't avoid the conclusion that Mrs. Peters's figures were, at best, based on guesswork and an extremely tendentious guesswork at that.

I would add that even a superficial glance at Cuinet's figures should make any serious historian recoil from using them. While the official Ottoman figures for the Muslims are underestimated for the reasons I earlier explained, Cuinet's are much more so. As far as his figures for the Christians are concerned, their main flaws are not only their inflated character but also the distortion in the estimates he gives for the various Christian communities. First, Cuinet found hardly any Greek Orthodox Christians living in Palestine (450 in the Haifa subdistrict and 169 in the Jama'in subdistrict of the Nablus district). But by all other accounts, this community was the largest single Christian community living in Palestine at the end of the nineteenth century; indeed, it is still the largest such community in the combined territory of present-day Israel, the occupied West Bank, and the Gaza strip.

Secondly, Cuinet claimed that substantial numbers of Syrian Orthodox Christians (about seven thousand) were living throughout Palestine, whereas in fact this Christian community was hardly to be found in Palestine at all. Its only presence in the country was a small monastery in Jerusalem. And thirdly and most absurdly, Cuinet claimed that precisely five thousand Maronites, who amounted to 10 percent of the population of the district, were living in the district of Nablus. But as everyone knows Maronites were to be found in the Middle East only in Mount Lebanon. The only exceptions were a cluster of villages in Cyprus and one village and half a village in the upper-most Galilee in northern Palestine (Bir'am and Jish in Israel of today), a direct extension of the Lebanese stronghold. No Maronites were to be found in the Nablus district and no other writer claimed that they were. Cuinet's mistakes were deliberately made in order to prove that Palestine, as much as Lebanon and Syria, should be put under French protection. His attitude is well known and requires that his material be used with great caution.

Since we are left with no sound basis for Mrs. Peters's figures for the population in the "Jewish-settled areas" in 1893, there is no need to account for the supposed quintupling of the Arab population in those areas by 1947; so dramatic an increase did not take place. It is true nevertheless that during the Mandatory period the Arab population of the coastal area of Palestine grew faster than it did in other areas. But this fact does not necessarily prove an Arab immigration into Palestine took place. More reasonably it confirms the very well-known fact that the coastal area attracted Arab villagers from the mountainous parts of Palestine who preferred the economic opportunities in the fast-growing areas of Jaffa and Haifa to the meager opportunities available in their villages.

The coastal area had several main attractions for the Arab villagers. They found jobs in constructing, and later working in, the port of Haifa, the Iraq Petroleum Company refineries, the railway workshops, and the nascent Arab industries there. They also took part in the large-scale cultivation of the citrus groves between Haifa and Jaffa and found jobs connected with the shipment of citrus fruits from the Jaffa port. Contrary to what Mr. Pipes claims, all these developments had almost nothing to do with the growth of the Jewish National Home. The main foreign factor that brought them about was the Mandatory government. The Zionist settlers had a clearly stated policy against using Arab labor or investing in Arab industries. At the same time, the natural increase in the Palestinian Arab population I referred to is made clear in the statistical abstracts and quarterly surveys published by the Mandatory government in the years following the census of 1931.



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