Peace Now: So How Many Settlers Are There?

As published today by AP, Settlers claim that the number of Israelis living in the West Bank is 382,031 (excluding those who live in East Jerusalem). This number shows a rapid growth in setters' population, of 2% in six months, double the growth rate in Israel itself.

What's the meaning of this publication?

First of all, it shows clearly that settlements are not just experiencing "natural growth", as some officials claim, but that the policy of the Israeli Government is encourage construction and development in settlements, offering incentives for Israelis to move from Israel to the West Bank settlements.

In addition, it means that Settlers want us to believe that the settlements are irreversible. It seems that this publication was meant to precede the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) publication of data expected next week (where numbers are a little lower, see below), in order to plant a higher number in the public discourse.

In recent years settlers changed their strategy: Instead of crying that there was not enough construction in settlements, they started to claim victory and say: we are too many for Israel to evict. This is a misleading and dangerous argument.

  • The number of the settlers that will need to leave might be lower than the total number of settlers, in case the sides agree on land swaps.
  • Israel have proved its ability to absorb 1,000,000 new immigrants in several years in the early 90's, so it can absorb few hundred thousands.
  • There are precedence of eviction of large number of population (The French people from Algeria for example).
  • And finally, claiming that the eviction is impossible actually means that the Israeli democracy cannot implement critical decisions required for the survival of the State of Israel. We refuse to accept that. What those settlers are actually implying is that we should give up on our democracy.

How to explain the difference between these numbers and the official data of the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics?

According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), at the end of year 2012 the number of settlers was 341,400. Next week, the CBS is expected to publish the number of settlers as of the end of year 2013. We can be sure that this number will not be 380,000 (we expect it to be around 355,000 to 358,000).

In Israel, there are two official sources of information regarding population: The Israeli CBS, and the Ministry of Interior. The CBS arrives at its figure through a census every several years, frequent surveys and statistical calculations based on research. For every non-census year, they estimate the number of people in settlements using statistical indicators. The CBS data is always in delay (the numbers that are expected next week will be of the end of 2013).

The Ministry of Interior (MOI), However, neither conducts a census nor estimates using statistics. They arrive at their figure using the registration of Israeli citizens based upon their stated address, regardless of where they presently reside. Many people who move to a new address not necessarily report it to the MOI, unless there's a specific need (for example, to be able to vote for the local authority, to receive parking discounts etc.) Those who don't report on a new address will continue to be counted by the MOI as residents of their previous address. Especially in settlements, there are incentives to stay registered in the settlement regardless of the actual place of residence.

In addition, people who travel out of the country are not removed from the registration of Israeli citizens even if they actually left the country or even when they die abroad (the MOI collects information on deaths only in Israel). This is why the numbers of the MOI are always higher than those of the Israeli CBS, especially in settlements.

Because it is based on the registration of Israeli citizens, the MOI can easily pull out updated population data practically every day. We believe that the settlers based their numbers for this publication on the MOI data.

In order to examine settlers population data one should check:

  1. What is the source of the data? (Israeli CBS, MOI, other); How was it calculated?
  2. What is the date of the data for what period of time?
  3. Make sure never to draw conclusions on growth trends based on two different sources (don't say that because the CBS data for last year was 341,400 and today's MOI data is 380,000, then it means that there was a growth of 11%!. The yearly growth rate of settlements is around 4%-5%).

The bottom line is that even if the numbers of the Israeli CBS are lower than what was published, still the number of settlers is very very high, and the growth pace is also very high (4% to 5% yearly compared to less than 2% in Israel itself). The policy of the Israeli government encourages this growth. The fact that the eviction of settlements is possible doesn't mean that it is going to be easy, and the larger settlements are, the harder it is to get to a two state solution. 

Article first appeared 9/17/2014 on the Peace Now website

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