Friday, December 24, 2010

The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922-1931

Fred M. Gottheil
Middle East Quarterly
Winter 2003
pp. 53-64
(h/t Michal Dar-El)

In deep antiquity, particularly in Egypt, the early civilization where the arts were most strongly developed, the visualization was aspective: that is the artist, working in paint or low-relief sculpture, conveyed to his two-dimensional surface not so much what he saw as what he knew was there.

- Paul Johnson, The Renaissance

Palestinian demography of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has never been just a matter of numbers. It has always been—and consciously so—a front-line weapon used in a life-and-death struggle for nationhood among two peoples living in what used to be known as Palestine, each having competing ideologies and competing claims to territorial inheritance and rights to national sovereignty.

The problem with staking so much on so narrow a focus as past demography is that the data generated by demographers and others since the early nineteenth century are so lacking in precision that, in some matters of dispute concerning demography, "anyone's guess," as the saying goes, "is as good as any other." Or almost so. Of course, people still engaged in this high-stakes game of Palestinian demographic warfare will argue otherwise. With few exceptions, they insist that their own sources are superior, their own estimates more scientific, and their critics more ideological.

There are really two issues—or two battlefronts—associated with estimating Palestinian demography. The first has to do with sheer numbers, i.e., measuring over time the size of Palestine's total and subgroup populations. The second battlefront is considerably more contentious. It is estimating the percentages of population growth among subgroups attributed to natural increase and to immigration.

This immigration factor—or its absence—is paramount. If a significant percent of a population is composed of recent arrivals, then claims of historic tenancy are compromised. This explains why Arab Palestinians and others use the term "intruder" to describe the Jewish population of Palestine. The importance of Jewish immigration to the Jewish population of Palestine in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is undisputed. But Jewish claims to territorial inheritance and to national sovereignty lay elsewhere, in history rather than demography.

On the other hand, for Arab Palestinians, the character of their demography is at the heart of their claim to territorial inheritance and national sovereignty. Their contention, seen by them as being beyond dispute, is that Arab Palestinians have deep and timeless roots in that geography and that their own immigration into that geography has at no time been consequential. To challenge that contention, then, is to challenge their self-selected criterion for sovereignty.

(Read full "The Smoking Gun: Arab Immigration into Palestine, 1922-1931")

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1 comment:

  1. Except that your Middle East Forum article by Prof Gottheil is a fraud--and a deliberate one.
    The first demographic reference made in ‘Smoking Gun’ is of U.O. Schmelz’ work on 1905 data. (Interesting data, by the way.) Here’s Schmelz: .Your article says: ‘of those Arab Palestinians born outside their localities of residence, approximately half represented intra-Palestine movement—from areas of low-level economic activity to areas of higher-level activity—while the other half represented Arab immigration into Palestine itself’. What Gottheil chooses to ignore is that Schmelz estimated that 93.1% of Palestinian Muslims were born in their current locality of residence, 5.2% were born elsewhere in Palestine, and 1.6% were born outside Palestine. 93.4% of Palestine Christians were born in their current locality, 3.0% were born elsewhere in Palestine, and 3.6% were born outside Palestine. (see also: This is pretty bad sleight of hand. What Gottheil leaves out is that the half in question is half of a tiny minority.
    It’s much the same when he mentions that Schmelz tabulated the places of birth of persons living in the Jerusalem and Hebron districts in 1905, but carefully avoids stating Schmelz's figures. The percentage of Muslims born outside Palestine: Jerusalem city 11.7%, Jerusalem villages 0.4%, Hebron city 0.8%, Hebron villages 0.8%. In other words, Gottheil is discussing a very small fraction of the total population but hides that fact from us. Another example is how he keeps referring to the 1931 census but never mentions the entire section on illegal immigration that appears in the 1931 census report.
    Even more bald-faced is this: Gottheil: ‘[Schmelz] did acknowledge that “stable population models assume the absence of external migrations, a condition which was obviously not met
    by all the subpopulations".’ What is left out of Gottheil’s quotation is ‘…subpopulations of Table 1.6’, which is a breakdown of age and sex, not origin. (See footnote 54, page 61 of the Google Books version linked above.)
    I could go on and on. Gottheil is not a professional in the field of demography, or even in history, and there are no professional demographers that support his allegations.