The ‘People’ Problem

The latest issue of the London Review of Books has a short essay by Ilan Pappe about the ‘demographic problem’ in Israel:

Once the ‘Arabs’ in Israel and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories came to be thought of in the West as ‘Muslims’ it was easy to elicit support for Israel’s demographic policies, at least where it counted: on Capitol Hill. But even in Europe there was no need, after 9/11, to explain why Israel has a ‘demographic problem’. On 2 February 2003 the popular daily Maariv carried a typical headline: ‘A quarter of the children in Israel are Muslims.’ The piece went on to describe this fact as Israel’s next ‘ticking bomb’. The increase in the ‘Muslim’ population – 2.4 per cent a year – was not a problem anymore, but a ‘danger’.

In the run-up to the election, pundits discussed this question using language akin to that employed in Europe and the United States in debates over immigration. Here, however, it is the immigrant community that decides the future of the indigenous population, not vice versa. On 7 February 1948, after driving to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and seeing the first villages that had been emptied of Palestinians on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, a jubilant Ben-Gurion reported to a gathering of Zionist leaders: ‘When I come nowadays to Jerusalem I feel it is a Hebrew city. This was a feeling I only had in farms and in Tel Aviv. Not all Jerusalem is Hebraic but there is already a huge Hebraic bloc – no Arabs in it. One hundred per cent Jewish. If we can persevere,’ Ben-Gurion added, this miracle will happen elsewhere.

But despite their perseverance, a sizable community of Palestinians remained. They are students at my university, where they attend lectures by professors who talk about the grave demographic problem. Palestinian law students – the lucky ones who constitute an informal quota – in the Hebrew University may well come across Ruth Gabison, a former head of the Association for Civil Rights and a candidate for the Supreme Court, who has come out recently with strong views on the subject, views that probably seem to her to reflect a consensus. ‘Israel has the right to control Palestinian natural growth,’ she has declared.

Read the rest here.

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