THE ARAFAT MYTH DEBUNKED
By Micah Halpern
Tuesday December 1, 2009
Many myths pervade the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. None is more powerful and more convincing than the claim made by the first and still most effective leader of the Palestinian cause. Yasser Arafat used to boast that the secret weapon of the Palestinian people is the Palestinian womb.
The assumption is that over time the Arab birth rate will outstrip the Jewish birthrate. The inevitable will simply happen, there will be a Palestinian Arab state within Israel - and Israel will cease to exist.
This myth is the foundation for much of the Israeli nationalist propaganda that espouses the transfer of Arabs out of Israel. And it is this myth that fuels the canard that Israel is a racist state that promulgates racist policies to maintain a Jewish majority. But myth are myths and statistics are statistics and the two rarely coincide.
Population surveys over the past decade paint a very different, a seriously different, picture of Arab population growth in Israel.
Muslim growth in Israel since 2000 has dropped from 3.8% per year to 2.8% per year in 2008. In real numbers that means that there are only 34,000 more Arabs in Israel today than there were a year ago. In round numbers there has been no change, the Arab population in Israel stands still at 1,240,000 people.
Even the fertility rate of Arab women in Israel dropped significantly over the past eight years. Fertility rate is number of children a women is expected to have in her lifetime. In 2000 that number was 4.7, in 2008 it is 3.8. Not surprisingly, the Arab population in Israel is young. 41 % is under the age of 15 and only 3% is over the age of 65. This is a very significant statistic because 7% of Arab married couples living in Israel are childless.
What does this all mean? It means that the Arab womb is not the secret weapon. It means that Israel is not in danger of loosing its Jewish identity. It means that one long time problem facing Israel is gone, off the table - but Israel still has many real and serious threats with which to contend. In addition to the threats Hamas and Hezbollah pose to Israel's physical existence, Israel is contending with the threat posed by Iran's expanding nuclear frontier.
And Israel has many challenges ahead. Israel has not yet found a balance between traditional society and modern democratic issues. And Israel must push that envelope in the fields of business and technology in order to continue to be a player in world markets in the decades to come.
Israel will struggle to make the mission and vision of an independent Jewish state exciting and attractive to future generations of Israelis. And hopefully, all Israelis, Jewish and Arab, will reap the rewards of Israel's struggles and Israel's triumphs.
Yasser Arafat is probably turning over in his grave.
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