Jerusalem Demography: History, Transitions, and Forecasts

The conflict over demography and geography is at the heart of the Palestinian-Zionist  conflict.  During the last century, there have been shifts in the status of Palestinian and Israeli demography, which have brought about geopolitical changes, and swings in power relations and in the distribution and control of resources. This study deals with the demographic projections for the city of Jerusalem, in order to examine the city’s status within the Palestinian-Zionist conflict. The article identifies the demographic conditions in Jerusalem and analyzes the city’s national,   ethnic,   cultural,   religious, and geopolitical attributes. The relationship between demographics, geography, and democracy, and how these considerations are employed in spatial planning and resource control are also discussed. Forecasts for future demographic trends and their projected consequences are argued by monitoring and critically analyzing quantitative data collected from Palestinian and Israeli sources, as well as by reviewing the literature, plans, and programs shaping Jerusalem and its environs at present and for the foreseeable future.

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No solution or geopolitical reconciliation is possible between Palestinians and Israelis without including demography as an essential element in conflict solution proposals. From an Israeli standpoint, the main motive behind a two-state solution (Palestine and Israel) is to fulfill Israel’s desire to preserve a Jewish Zionist majority. Israeli socio-political movements present a position that implies their willingness to relinquish some areas and lands, including in Jerusalem, in order to maintain a Jewish demographic majority in all of the areas that Israel seeks to control.

Palestinian demography represents a “demon,” an eternal obsession that troubles the Zionist leadership.1 In order to confront this demonic “problem,” Israel, as a state and society, employs demographic and spatial policies that utilize its power and resources to implement ethnic/nationalist colonial policies to secure their demographic domination within that space; land policies, resource distribution, and spatial planning are calculated to achieve this dominance. We witness this demographic and geographic conflict clearly and frankly in the current social conditions of ethnically divided Jerusalem, where it represents an example of the geodemographic conflict at all levels – national, regional, municipal, and local.

This study aims to address the geodemographic conflict in the city of Jerusalem and its environs, including the urban Jerusalem environs2 or metropolitan Jerusalem,3 as will be explained below. Despite the longevity of this conflict, the continuously increasing Palestinian demographic presence remains an influence in Jerusalem and its environs, representing an obsession for the Israeli authorities. The Arab demographic presence drives the Israeli authorities to employ demographic and colonial policies that they hope will alter the present demographic reality. This demographic conflict has woven mutual fear (majority-minority relations) within a state of asymmetry that is both imagined and real. I will refer to this phenomenon as “demographobia,” which is the fear of demography, and in our context, the Jewish Israeli fear of Arab Palestinian population growth in Jerusalem and in the rest of the country.4

The central argument in this study is that Israel employs and weaves selective demographic policies and discourses. In some cases, it represents itself as a threatened minority, and in other cases, as a majority, depending on which geopolitical and administrative definitions enable it to marshal the desired mechanisms for extending its control over Jerusalem and its environs.5

After examining the concept of “demographobia” and theoretically framing it, we will discuss its components and projections using the case of Jerusalem. From this model, we will make several inferences about the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli Zionist conflict in Palestine. Following this theoretical introduction, the study will discuss the demographic conditions in Jerusalem according to national, ethnic, cultural, religious, and geopolitical affiliations. We will discuss the relationship between demographics, geography, and democracy, and how they are utilized in spatial planning and resource control. The study also seeks to forecast the future outlook and consequences by monitoring and critically analyzing quantitative data collected from Palestinian and Israeli sources, as well as reviewing the literature, plans, and programs shaping Jerusalem and its environs either at present or planned for the future.

Theoretical Framework

The natural human pursuit for settling conflicts pushes the demographic component to the forefront as a major factor in conflict resolution. What I refer to as Israeli demographobia, the fear of Arab population growth – that is, the population and its relative distribution and grouping based on affiliations and attributes – is a situation that affects resource distribution and the sharing and division of geographic democracy. This includes participation in decision-making, governance of institutions, and distribution of resources in a specific geopolitical space or entity.

The demographic discourse represents a central ground for creating an atmosphere and an obsession with demographic changes in a specific space. This discourse reflects the symbolic performative and functional resources for spatial planning and demographic policies and paves the way for its accomplishment.6 The discourse transformation is influenced by the goals of the demographic policies and power relations between the majority and minority of the population and the desired or threatening results to these relations.7 This fear of an increased number of Arab Palestinians elicits a demand for a continued increase in the number of Jews, especially in the increase of Orthodox Jews, or Haredim.8

The review of the demographic discourse shows that certain key terms have been used frequently since the first decade of establishing the state of Israel. Those terms include the discourse on “building a nation,” “Judaization and Zionism of the human and the place,” “Jewish population distribution,” “assimilation of Jewish immigrants,” and “the creation of a geodemographic balance.” Other terms include the formulation of the new Israeli; the fusing of the Jewish immigrants from the diaspora in the new state; and an ethno-national and spatial separation. The newly established Jewish state proceeded to concentrate and confine the remaining Palestinian Arabs who had become a defeated minority after the Nakba – by conducting an urbicide of the Palestinian city, creating conditions of intimidation, and demanding the reduction of births, while not allowing the return of displaced Palestinian Arabs to their homeland. In addition, the Israeli state constructed a discourse referring to the Arab population as a backward and non-modern society. This discourse included an emphasis on the placement of women in education and the workplace, and efforts to accelerate their “modernization” as a tool to reduce Arab birth rates through “modernization.”9

There is a correlation between demographobia and drawing borders or reshaping them, especially in cases where transfer10 or “redemption” policies or forced displacement11 are applied in a state of ethno-demographic conflict. The establishment of the modern nation-state was accompanied by the process of drawing its geopolitical borders, without preserving the ethno-demographic homogeneity within these borders.12 As a result of the drawing of armistice borders, arbitrary boundaries were formed dividing population groups who belonged to homogeneous cultural groups. Thus, Palestinians were transformed from a demographic cultural majority in their space into minority groups dispersed among contending neighboring countries. Such is the case with Palestinians and other minorities in Arab countries,13 or in non-Arab countries that suffer from ethnic/national conflicts and live themselves in a state of demographobia. The new borders resulted in shifts in the balance of population distribution according to ethnic, religious, national, and cultural affiliation within the country generally, or in other regions or cities, as in the case of the Balkans, Kurds, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine.14

Israeli Demographic Policies

Despite the more than ten-fold increase in the Jewish population since the establishment of Israel, the obsession with demography remains a central component in its national policies. This discourse calls for Jewish immigration and supports population growth, not only for the Haredi Jews, but also for the Jewish middle classes. It also includes the growth of the Jewish population in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As a result of these changes, the percentage of the Palestinian Arab population within the borders of colonized Palestine between the river and the sea was almost equal to the Jewish population in 2017; despite the efforts to increase the Jewish populations, the Palestinians increase faster. The number of Palestinians living in Palestinian areas is around 4,952,000 people,15 in addition to 1,421,000 Palestinian Arabs who became citizens of Israel – that is, approximately 6,373,000 Palestinian Arabs, compared to 6,959,000 Israeli Jews and others.16 This quantitative data disturbs decision makers in Israel, increasing their fear for the future of the country. These concerns are at the heart of Israeli politics on how to deal with the Arab Palestinian demographic increase and its spread within the space controlled by Israel.17 These demographic dilemmas are most prominent in Jerusalem today.

Jerusalem Demographobia

In 1948, Jerusalem faced partition and Palestinians were forcibly displaced from the occupied western areas. This led to a decrease in the Palestinian population in western Jerusalem, from 40 percent of the population in 1947 to less than 2.5 percent in the period from 1948 to 1967 (see figures 1 and 2).

According to UN Resolution 181, which specified that Palestine be divided into a Jewish state and an Arab state, Jerusalem was to be granted a distinctive status under international guardianship. Israel violated the international status of the city through its occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and its annexation of the western part within the borders formulated and approved unilaterally by the Israeli government and under its sovereignty. The Palestinian lands that were annexed to West Jerusalem were inhabited by urban and rural Palestinian residents, including al-Sawahira Bedouin Arabs. Demographically, these communities lived as traditional societies with high rates of natural population growth, which contributed to a significant increase in the number of Palestinians. Despite Israeli demographic policies that sought to prevent the return of refugees and displaced people to Jerusalem, and discouraged Palestinian immigration to it, a significant percentage of residents originally from Hebron inhabited Jerusalem and became part of the diversified Palestinian population.18

Israel initiated a number of demographic changes, principally through confiscating Palestinian land in the city for the construction of Israeli settlements, creating obstacles to the possibility of a geopolitical settlement. These settlements represent a colonial demographic belt surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods and villages, and cutting the natural urban connection between them. These villages and neighborhoods continued to grow in population and expand spatially, despite Israeli restrictions on their growth.

In 2016, the number of Palestinian Jerusalemites reached around 332,000 people, 37.7 percent of the population in Jerusalem (see figure 1). In the period 1967–2016, the number of Palestinian Jerusalemites increased by 385 percent, while the Israeli population in Jerusalem increased by 178 percent.19 This percentage increase of Palestinian Jerusalemites – twice the increase of Israelis, both secular and Haredim – occurred despite Israeli restrictions on Palestinian immigration to Jerusalem, and Israeli encouragement of Jewish natural growth and migration to the city.

The Palestinian increase led the Israeli authority to utilize a demographic, spatial, and planning matrix to preserve the Jewish majority in Jerusalem, by defining exclusive ethno-national administrative and geopolitical areas. Demographic conflicts in Jerusalem have reflected the Palestinian-Israeli demographic conflict at its base, but also involve the conflict between Orthodox Jews, Haredim, and other Jewish groups that affects the character of the city and the population’s social attributes. Today, Israeli residents of Jerusalem are divided into three groups: secular, representing 33 percent; other religious groups also representing 33 percent, and the remaining Haredim living in their own neighborhoods, representing about 34 percent of the Israeli Jewish population in Jerusalem. Jerusalem currently experiences negative immigration, especially from the secular Israeli middle class, weakening the economic situation in the city and contributing to the deterioration of non-religious life in Jerusalem.20

Figure 1. Transitions in the Palestinian population compared to the Israeli population in Jerusalem, according to changing definitions between 1922 and 2016, compiled from Table (G/1), the Jerusalem Statistical Yearbook (in Hebrew), online at (, Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research (2019), (accessed 29 May 2020); in English, online at ( (accessed 4 June 2020)

Figure 2. Transitions in Palestinian population percentages in Jerusalem between 1922 and 2016, according to the change in administrative and geopolitical borders, compiled from Table (G/1), the Statistics Yearbook of Jerusalem, Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, Jerusalem (2019) (in Hebrew), online at ( (restrictions on access)


The geopolitical location of Jerusalem, in addition to the changes that occurred in the formation of the administrative borders, has contributed to the creation of a demographic prevalence map. This map is based on calculations that are being applied by Israel in order to preserve the demographic majority. This demographic need stands in the way of any future geopolitical resolution with Palestinians that includes Jerusalem. It also secures Israel’s geodemographic control of the space without paying the price for Palestinian political participation. Instead, this goal is attained by producing the space or by dividing the power, the resources, and the political institutions, according to ethno-national affiliation. This is why Israel has adopted a unique and distinct approach towards the demographic conditions in Jerusalem. We summarize part of this approach in the following points:

  1. “Status” as an indicator of demographobia: Palestinian Jerusalemites were granted the status of “Permanent Residents” as a new definition of the status of native people. This status was granted to Jerusalemites who had been subjected to Israeli occupation under the “Entry into Israel Law of 1952,” and given to others who enter Israel for the purpose of work, without a claim as native people. Jerusalemites were also granted an Israeli identity card but were not granted citizenship, although citizenship could be applied for according to the Israeli Citizenship law of 1950. Most Palestinians refused to apply for Israeli citizenship and, in any event, Israel generally rejects citizenship requests submitted by Palestinian Jerusalemites. Since 2003, around 15,000 Palestinians out of around 330,000 living in Jerusalem applied for an Israeli citizenship, of which Israel approved less than 6,000 applications. This unique status is a result of the state of conditional temporality in which the Palestinian Jerusalemites live; it even created a culture of temporality that expects status and conditions to change.


    When Israel annexed East Jerusalem and extended its sovereignty over it, it also applied all Israeli laws on the land and the people except the law of citizenship. Yet the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics ignores the unique status of Palestinians in Jerusalem, and includes them with their calculations of the number of Arabs in Israel, which increased the percentage of Arab Palestinians in Israel from 18 percent to 21 percent.

    According to their new “Permanent Resident” status, Palestinian Jerusalemites were granted the right to participate in municipal elections, but were not granted the right of citizenship according to the law, which would have enabled them to elect representatives to parliament and obtain an Israeli passport. As such, they remain under the threat of residency withdrawal, expulsion, and other problems when traveling outside the country. The separation wall built by Israel after 2002 is the best exemplification of this threat, cutting off Palestinian neighborhoods outside the wall where more than about 55,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites holding an Israeli ID reside.21 This threat from the status increased after Israel approved the “Center of Life” policy for Palestinian Jerusalemites in 1995. The policy states that every Jerusalemite who does not prove that the center of their life is Jerusalem – meaning that they have resided and worked in Jerusalem for the past seven years – is subject to losing their permanent residency and their identity card will be retracted. They must also declare their assets as absentee property, whereby their land and assets become subject to confiscation and are transferred to the control of the state administration. Indeed, 14,595 Palestinian Jerusalemite identity cards were confiscated between 1976 and 2016 based on this policy.22

    Part of the demographic policy was concerned with registering the population in the population registrar and uniting Palestinian families. This is applied in Jerusalem and in the rest of the West Bank as a way to reduce the Palestinian presence, since Israel still controls the Palestinian population registry even in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It is true that the Palestinian National Authority issues Palestinian identity cards in the occupied land except East Jerusalem, but this occurs in coordination with Israel, which can reject or cancel requests for identity cards or registration in the population registry, as it has done since 1967. Israel rejected and cancelled 230,000 identity card requests under the pretext of residing outside the occupied land for a long period of time.23 

  2. Border Delineation: The United Nations drafted the partition plan of Palestine based on geodemographic considerations, to ensure that the Jewish state includes the Jewish majority in Palestine at that time.24 In the aftermath of the war, the cease-fire/armistice borders were created, which became known as the “green line.” Currently these borders represent the basis for a potential agreement on a two-state solution, Palestine and Israel.25 These borders were created on the basis of demographic distribution and the relationship between the Jewish majority that arose after the Nakba through immigration, and the Palestinian transition to a minority status after displacement and ethnic cleansing, not exceeding 18 percent of the population of Israel including West Jerusalem. After the 1967 war and the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel, there was little spatial urban and rural displacement, unlike the case in the areas that Israel built on after the 1948 war.26


    The state of Israel annexed lands from the West Bank after the 1967 war. This included the municipal borders of Arab Jerusalem and local villages, borders that Israel abolished and then annexed the land to the expanded Israeli Jerusalem municipality, increasing its area to reach seventy-one thousand dunums. In doing so, Israel drew its borders based on geopolitical and demographic considerations: they encircled an expanded Jerusalem municipality, including twenty-eight Palestinian villages such as Sur Bahir, al-Isawiyya, and Shu‘fat, in addition to Arab Jerusalem, with a population of not more than sixty-eight thousand Palestinians at that time, representing about 26 percent of the population of Jerusalem after the Israeli annexation.

    Our review of the drawing of the Israeli Jerusalem municipal borders shows the adoption of annexing the largest area of the land that serves the Israeli goals and narratives, with the lowest number of Palestinian population. Accordingly, Israel controlled Qalandiya airport, north of Jerusalem, and the Old City, in addition to the eastern hills of al-Masharif hills (Mount Scopus area), providing land to construct Israeli settlements to increase the number of Jews, to accommodate Jewish immigration, and to pull Jerusalem out of the “siege” status according to the Israeli narrative.27 The Palestinian demographic component and its distribution represented the basis for border drawing, to ensure that the percentage of Palestinians remained less than 30 percent of the total population within the municipal borders of Jerusalem after annexation.

    As a result of this policy, Qalandiya refugee camp and adjacent towns such as Qalandiya, al-Ram, Bir Nabala, Bayt Hanina, Anata, Hizma, and Abu Dis, among others, were excluded from the Jerusalem municipal council area. The reason for their exclusion was to keep the basis for the ratio of a 30/70 Palestinian/Israeli presence in the city, the bedrock of their demographic planning policy. The Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli regional and country planning committees did not endorse any building plans that would allow the number of Palestinians in Jerusalem to exceed 30 percent. This led Palestinians to build randomly without structured construction planning or licensing to meet their basic needs, to keep up with their housing needs. Hence, Israel effectively applied the 30/70 Palestinian/Israeli equation as an optimal demographic balance for the city’s population to maintain Israel’s continued control over the city28 and proceeded towards building the separation wall.

  3. The separation wall as a product of demographobia: A demographic policy has been applied to keep Palestinian Jerusalemites a minority, not to exceed 30 percent within the borders of the city of Jerusalem. Despite enormous efforts to increase the Israeli population in the city through immigration, natural Jewish growth, and settlements, and to limit population growth among Palestinians, the Palestinian population increased from 68,000 in 1967 to around 330,000 in 2016 within the municipal borders of Jerusalem.


    This increase emanates partly from Palestinian urban and rural expansion in urban Jerusalem and the Jerusalem metropolitan area, which extends from Birzeit in the north to Bayt Sahur in the south, passing through Ramallah, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and its surroundings (see figure 2). In order to cut off the Palestinian population connections and extension, Israel began to establish settlements in two concentric rings. The inner ring included the establishment of eleven settlements (“neighborhoods,” according to the Israeli definition) in East Jerusalem, inhabited by around 209,000 settlers in 2016, surrounding the Old City and its basin. As for the outer ring, it included the construction of twenty-eight settlements in the Jerusalem Metropolis, with around 178,000 settlers in 2016. These settlements aim to control and Judaize the space, and to cut off and penetrate Palestinian geographical connection and thus prevent the creation of a Palestinian demographic majority in the space. In addition to these settlements, Israel has built a separation wall to ensure that Palestinians enter Jerusalem only through Israel’s controlled and closely monitored gates and barriers. This wall was not built around settlements, or on the municipal borders, according to the Israeli definition. Rather, it cuts off Palestinian neighborhoods and prevents their continued physical and natural connection.29 This wall was built on the pretext of security motives, but it is likely that demographic considerations were also involved.

As mentioned, the wall has kept 55,000 Jerusalemite Palestinians from the rest of Jerusalem, according to the Israeli definition, even though they hold an Israeli identity card. This includes Kufr ‘Aqab, Dahiyat al-Barid, Shu‘fat refugee camp, al-Sawahira, and al-Walaja. In the gerrymandering, the wall included two very large settlements outside the municipal borders of Jerusalem: Ma‘ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev. Demographic considerations then represented the guide for determining the location of the wall, in order to reduce the percentage of Palestinian Jerusalemites within the borders drawn by the Israelis – to formulate a discourse and awareness that Israelis are a majority in this area.

Producing Demographic Spaces

For a deeper understanding of the demographic discourse and demographic policies, these policies must be linked to the specified space and to the population density and percentages of distribution according to national affiliation. Hence, we examined population distribution according to Israeli definitions within the administrative, functional, and geopolitical division of the space, rather than Palestinian definitions. The division of the population distribution in the space is based on national, ethnic, and cultural affiliations, as in the case of Jerusalem and its urban surroundings, which Israel calls the Jerusalem metropolitan area.30 What confirms this regional control is Israel’s focus on the municipal borders of Jerusalem, considering it the heart of the metropolitan area and its functional inner ring, in addition to presenting the Israeli settlements, including those established in the West Bank, as part of the outer ring of the so-called metropolitan. This effectively ignores and denies the urban and rural Palestinian presence that constitutes an organic part of the urban fabric of the area surrounding Jerusalem and replaces it functionally and urbanly.31 This denial and the Israeli selective display of data, maps, and planning of Palestinian existence reveals the Israeli presence as an achievement for the Zionist project and the state of Israel in Jerusalem and its environs. Hence, any display of the Palestinian presence and population increase is a threat to Israelis.

I have summarized some of the results in the manipulation of spatial blocs (in table 1 and figure 1), with the aim of displaying the numbers and percentages in the space and inferring from the results the demographic situation that exists between Palestinians and Israelis with particular reference to the area of Jerusalem.


Administrative/ Functional Areas







Old City 34,960 91.40 8.60
East Jerusalem 542,400 60.42 39.58
Jerusalem municipal borders, according to Israel (considered the core of the metropolitan according to the Israeli definition). 882,700 37.70 62.30
Jerusalem metropolitan borders, according to Israel (the core and the outer ring), dismissing the Palestinian existence in the outer ring of the metropolitan. 1,357,696 31.30 67.70
Outer ring of the metropolitan, including Jerusalem governorate according to the Israeli definition, dismissing the Palestinian existence in it. 474,996 23.11 66.89
Outer ring of the metropolitan in Jerusalem (does not include the metropolitan core), according to the Palestinian definition. 281,896 36.82 63.18
Outer ring of the metropolitan including Palestinians in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah, based on the Palestinian definition. 823,418 78.37 21.63
Core and outer ring of Jerusalem metropolitan, including Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah governorates. 1,899,218 51.2 48.80
Palestinian population of metropolitan Jerusalem from the total Palestinian population in the West Bank. 2,803,411 34.71 ---
Israeli settlers in metropolitan Jerusalem of the total number of settlers in the West Bank. 62,267,032 --- 62.21

Table 1. Distribution of Palestinian and Israeli Population in the Jerusalem Environs in 2016 according to geopolitical, administrative and functional divisions. Data calculated from data of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research (formerly the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies), and B’Tselem


A closer review of the data presented, according to national affiliation (Palestinian or Israeli) and according to the specified administrative, functional, and urban spaces, shows a deviation in the demographic balance between Palestinians and Israelis. The data indicates that Palestinians in the Old City of Jerusalem represent the overwhelming majority (91.4 percent Palestinian compared to 8.6 percent Israeli). Despite the consistent policies to Judaize the Old City and push Jews to live in it, the percentage of Arab Palestinians in the Old City basin, or the “Holy Basin,” according to Israel, also represents the overwhelming majority, exceeding 95 percent. In addition, the percentage of Palestinians in East Jerusalem exceeds 60.42 percent, compared to 39.58 percent of Israeli settlers.

However, if we take into account the total population in the city of Jerusalem, according to the borders set by Israel, we will find a demographic balance in favor of Israelis, who represent 62.3 percent of the city in 2016, compared to Palestinians representing 37.7 percent. In comparison to the Old City and its environs, the percentage of Palestinians in the rest of the Jerusalem metropolitan (the inner ring, metropolitan core) decreases to 31.30 percent of the total population, declining to 23.11 percent of the metropolitan population of the outer ring. This ring includes the district (governorate) of Jerusalem according to the Israeli definition, dismissing the Palestinian existence in it, while describing it as part of the metropolitan area and population.

But if we take into consideration the population of Palestinians living in the outer ring of the metropolitan, which includes the Palestinian governorates of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Ramallah, the percentage of Palestinians rises to 78.37 percent, falling to around 51.2 percent in the metropolitan core. Also, if we calculate the population living within the metropolitan core and the outer ring in the governorate of Jerusalem, including Palestinians and Israelis in the governorates of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah in 2016, we find that the majority of the population is Palestinian. In addition, if we calculate the percentage of Palestinian population in Jerusalem metropolitan area in 2016, we will find that 34.71 percent of the population of the West Bank lives within the Jerusalem metropolitan area, compared to 62.21 percent of Israeli settlers who settle in the West Bank and live in the Jerusalem metropolitan area.

We conclude from the data presented (table 1 and map 1) that the percentages of the population will change depending on the area specified. Israel seeks to focus on Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and its surroundings, now totaling thirty-nine settlements with around 388,000 settlers living there. While the Palestinians (living in core and outer ring of Jerusalem metropolitan, include part of Bethlehem and Ramallah governorates) reached around 973,000 individuals living in 161 villages and cities.33 However, when Israel and its state and municipal institutions present their data and maps,34 they ignore the Palestinian existence and their urban and regional connection and communication to Jerusalem, rendering them invisible, despite their presence in the amputated and dislocated metropolitan area of Jerusalem. This amputation and urban and functional dislocation aim to bring Palestinian alienation from Jerusalem by neglecting their existence in it, while at the same time, directing and bringing settlers closer to Jerusalem and fostering their affiliation to it. We see how selective demographic data and borderlines serve the Israeli demographic discourse and their colonial and population policies in Jerusalem and its environs.


Map 1. The percentage of Palestinian distribution compared to Israeli distribution, according to the administrative and functional areas and units in the divided Jerusalem metropolitan area. Map prepared by the author


Map 2. The formation of Palestinian and Israeli demographic distribution networks in Jerusalem and its bi-sectional environs, prepared by Rassem Khamaisi


Forecasting Perspective

The Zionist project was culminated by the establishment of a Jewish nation state in Palestine and the absorption of Zionist Jews, by virtue of using ethnic affiliation, described as “reuniting the Jewish diaspora.” This state transcribed its narrative into the Nation-State law of 2018,35 which adopted components of the 1948 “Israeli Declaration of Independence” that was drafted into the Basic Law of Israel. The law states that the right of self-determination in Palestine – “The land of Israel” – is restricted to Jews and that Jewish immigration, leading to direct citizenship, is possible only for Jews, with united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The law did not refer to equality for Arab Palestinian citizens, and of course, ignored the native Arab Palestinian presence, which currently represents around half of the country’s population, and did not refer to their right of self-determination in their country.

The continued adoption of current demographobic policies by Israel aims at maintaining Palestinians as a minority and ensuring their population does not exceed 30 percent of the total population in Jerusalem.

At the country specific level, there is almost equality between the number of Palestinians and Israelis. At the regional level, however, Israelis represent a minority in an “island” surrounded by an Arab majority and this relationship will not likely change. This increases the Israeli obsession with demography, pushing them to continue applying and emphasizing demographic policies. These policies are consistently attracting Jewish immigration, encouraging Jewish population growth and internal Zionist migration to settlements in East Jerusalem and its environs. These policies, in fact, are applied to pull Jerusalem, according to the Israeli definition, out of its so-called demographic island and, in addition, to strengthen the ring of outer settlements surrounding the city of Jerusalem, especially from the east (Ma‘ale Adumim area), and to cut the geodemographic connection of Palestinians along the north/south sphere, where Palestinians represent the majority in East Jerusalem and its environs (see figure 6).

Perhaps there is an Israeli far-sightedness that increasing the siege on Palestinians, especially on the younger generation, will push them towards emigrating outside of the Jerusalem area and perhaps outside of the country. This negative and forced migration, desired by Israel, is supposed to reduce the percentage of Palestinians in the long run. According to our examination, this prediction is elusive despite Israel’s practice of increasing pressure and strangling Jerusalemites. Thus, the population growth of Palestinians and Israelis will continue in the Jerusalem region, ensuring a relative distribution within the metropolitan rings, despite the increase in population for Palestinians and Israelis.

The location of Jerusalem and its environs within the heart of the West Bank will increase the concentration of Palestinians in its urban and rural environs, despite Israel’s continued demographic policies and expansion of colonial settlements in its surrounding. The rate of increase in the Palestinian population in the areas surrounding Jerusalem, and within the outer ring of the Jerusalem metropolitan area, will depend on natural growth, positive migration from the outskirts of the West Bank, and the return of Palestinians to their homeland. At the same time, the Israeli population will increase within the inner ring of the metropolis. This includes the borders of the city of Jerusalem according to the Israeli definition, in addition to the settlements nearest to the city. The increase will support achieving Israel’s geodemographic policy in removing Jerusalem from a condition of an island within the Jerusalem metropolitan area, a condition that is strengthened by the axis of the mountains northward toward Ramallah governorate and southward toward Bethlehem governorate passing through the center of Jerusalem governorate. As for the geodemographic axis that Israel seeks to reinforce, it is concentrated in the east-west axis, which means expanding the cluster of settlements of Ma‘ale Adumim and its surrounding in the east to reach Mevaseret Zion in the west, joining the settlements that were constructed within the municipal borders of Jerusalem, especially in East Jerusalem. 

In order to accommodate this increase, Israeli colonialist policies will reinforce the religious nationalist and the Haredim communities; these communities inhabit an Israeli colonial network within the rural and urban Palestinian settlement network in the city of Jerusalem, with its shattered, scattered, twofold metropolitan, divided by administrative borders and the separation wall. This prevents freedom of movement between the two residential networks existing in the environs of the Jerusalem metropolitan; the urban and rural settling of Palestinians that has developed organically, as opposed to the Israeli government-established colonial settlement network.

The overlap of the formation of the rural, urban, and community Palestinian settlement network and its interconnectedness, and the Israeli colonial settlement network, leads toward a creeping apartheid system that is already formed and is becoming even more developed and reinforced. The Palestinian settlement network originated and developed organically, cumulatively, and some randomly, as opposed to the Israeli colonial settlement network constructed and planned to achieve the goals of controlling the space by increasing the number of settlers. The intersection and the lack of spatial and functional integration between the Palestinian habitation network and the Israeli colonization, and their relation to the city of Jerusalem, in addition to the continuous race to increase population and settlement around Jerusalem, will stoke further clashes and confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem and its urban surrounding. The percentage of the Palestinian population compared to that of the Israeli population will likely be 40/60 percent in the inner ring of Jerusalem, within the municipal borders of Jerusalem and on the east-west axis; conversely, the percentage in the outer ring of the metropolitan and on the north-south axis will approximate 60-40 percent, in favor of the Palestinians (see map 2).

None of the following – not the endorsement of the Israeli Nation-State law in 2018, the continuing unequal power relations between Palestinians and Israelis, the political and behavioral discourse of Israel, the inability of the international community to apply international and UN resolutions, or even the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital – will bring a significant change to the geopolitical reality. This means Israel’s demographic control over Jerusalem and its environs and its administration will continue, without changing the status of the population by transforming them from the occupied into citizens who have the right to vote and politically participate.

Palestinian conditional political participation outside of Jerusalem is more concentrated in Palestinian municipalities and village councils at the local level. On a country specific level, they participate in the Palestinian National Authority institutions. However, Israeli settlers living in the occupied Palestinian land since 1967 hold Israeli citizenship, despite living in the occupied land in violation of international law, and they actively participate in the Israeli political system.

It is expected that the administrative, selective and spatially constructed apartheid regime in Jerusalem and its metropolitan area, will remain and become more complicated with the increased population in Jerusalem and its environs. This will be especially true if Israel officially includes in it Palestinian lands designated Area C by the interim agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Summary and Conclusions 

The geodemographic conflict in Jerusalem and its environs clearly represents the demographic conflict present in all of Palestine, taking into account the prominence of Jerusalem and its distinctive status in terms of its multiplicities of its national and religious narratives. Despite the diversity of the population growth sources, migration and natural growth, Palestinians and Israelis residing in Jerusalem and its environs are in a state of “population explosion,” according to demographic transformation theory.

Reading the distant and recent past shows that the possibility of demographic domination of one side over another, meaning an absolute Palestinian or Israeli domination, is impossible in the foreseeable future, except in the case of a war in which spatial or ethnic cleansing is employed. The occurrence of this demographic cleansing is evitable in the current and foreseeable Palestinian, Israeli, and global reality.

The basis of proposals of a geopolitical settlement for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a two-state solution, and the development of the principle that neither party will be able to demographically dominate over the other. The continued control of one side over the other, and deprivation of the other side of its geopolitical rights, will necessarily lead to the emergence of an apartheid regime in urban areas and in the country as a whole.

Studies show that the relations of the majority that is controlled by a dominant controlling plurality will be shaken and will lead to clashes if the defeated and oppressed minority reaches or exceeds 30 percent within a specified area. This minority will demand equal and fair participation of rights in resources and in political decision making. Currently, the number of Palestinian Jerusalemites has exceeded this percentage within the city, especially in East Jerusalem, and are demanding their rights to participate in the country and the city in a similar and equal manner. This predicts the transformation of the city and the country from a state of occupation, control, and ethnic discrimination to a shared country and city that has diversity where equality of citizenship is presumed – what is known as a one-state solution. This possibility is completely rejected by Israelis at the national and urban levels for reasons related to demography, resource sharing, and, as well, the Israeli political narrative. The settlement of the demographic and human rights conflict in Jerusalem based on justice principles, fairness, and the provision of a decent life is not expected in the near future, hence exacerbating the conflict.

Since the beginning of the Zionist project in Palestine and the push of Jewish immigration to Palestine, especially the immigration of religious Jews to the city of Jerusalem, the number of Jews and non-Arab Palestinians increased from 33,900 in 1922 to around 100,000 in 1946 in the city, a percentage increase from 54.3 percent to 60.3 percent of the city’s population (see figures 1 and 2). The continued focus on linking the population based on ethnic and religious affiliation to administrative decisions has created a Zionist and Israeli demographic discourse and behavior that relies on achieving a demographic balance in favor of the Jewish population. By dividing the space into units, they display themselves as the majority that deserves rights within the urban, regional, and country space, which historically led to the partition plan of Palestine and the formulation of resolutions on the basis of having a Jewish majority. This logic continues to prevail and is practiced in Jerusalem and its environs.



Akiva Bigman, “Shad demography – metos o metseot” [Demographic Demon – Myth or Reality], Yesha Council – Judae and Samaria, 24 August 2011, online at (accessed 30 May 2020).

Rassem Khamaisi, “Eyadat tashkel almohet alhadary almaqdesy qalb aldowla alfelestenia” [Reshaping the Urban Surrounding of Jerusalem; the Palestinian State Core], Jerusalem Hawleyat, no. 16 (fall/winter 2013): 3 –50.

Rassem Khamaisi, “The Amputated Jerusalem Metropolitan,” Palestinian Politics 4, no.14 (1997): 32–49.

Rassem Khamaisi, “Mavo: demograpya, handasat demograpya vehaseh hademographopy” [Introduction: Demography, Demographic Architecture and Demographobic Discourse], in Van Leer, Arab Society in Israel 4 (2009): 13–25; Melamed Shoham, “Amahot, berayon vehaeyom hademograpy” [Motherhood, Fertility and the Demographic Threat], Theory and Criticism, no. 25 (2004), 69–96; John McGarry, “Demographic Engineering: The State-directed Movement of Ethnic Group as a Technique of Conflict Regulation,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 21, no. 4 (1998): 613–38.

Rassem Khamaisi, “Mesyadet altakhtet alhadarye fe alqudes [The Accused Urban Planning Trap in Jerusalem], Arabic Future, no. 475 (September 2018): 29–55.

Barbara Jonstone, Discourse Analysis (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008); Jan Blommaert, Discourse: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005); Liz Sharp a nd Tim Richardson, “Reflections on Foucauldian Discourse Analysis in Planning and Environmental Policy Research,” Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning 3, no. 3 (2001): 193–209.‏

Maarten A. Hajer, City Politics: Hegemonic Projects and Discourses (Avebury Aldershot, UK: Gower, 1989); Maarten A. Hajer, The Politics of Environmental Discourse: Ecological Modernization and the Policy Process (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995); Stephen J. Ball, Foucault and Education, Disciplines and Knowledge (London: Routledge, 1990).

Evgenia Bystrov and Soffer Arnon, Israel: Demography 2010-2030, on the Way to a Religious State, Geostrategic Studies (Haifa: University of Haifa, 2010).

Ali A. Paydarfar, “Modernisation Process and Demographic Changes,” Sociological Review 15, no. 2 (1967): 141–53.

Elia Zureik, “Demography and Transfer: Israel’s Road to Nowhere,” Journal of Palestinian Studies 14, no.55 (Summer 2003): 42.

Rassem Khamaisi, “The Separation Option; Irredenta or Arab Transfer to Israel and its Implications,” in Sarah Ozacky–Lazar, As’ad Ghanem and Ilan Pappé, eds., “Shevat hadrakhem: Obtsyot teorityot lemamad haarvim beysrael” [Seven Roads: Theoretical Options for the Status of the Arabs in Israel] (Givat Haviva: Peace Research Institue,1999),155–200; Rassem Khamaisi, “Althabit walmotahowel benamat inteshar al-arab al falestenion fe yesrael” [The Constant and Variable in the Pattern of the Geographical Spread of Palestinian Arabs in Israel], al-Hasad, no. 3 (2013): 17–51.

Alexander Murphy, “Territorial Policies in Multi-ethnic States,” Geographical Review 79 (1989): 410–21.

Moran Zaga, “Megvol hevrati leterotryale: ketsad heshtanta tfesat hagvol bolam haarave?” [From Social to Regional Boundaries; How did the concept of Boundaries change in the Arab World], PhD diss., Haifa University, Haifa (2018).

See, for example, Morsi Abu Mokh, “Gormem lesekhsokhem etniyem bemdemat leom itafkido shel hahon hahevrate behavniat shalom bar kayma bkhelot etnyout mfolgot” [Causes of Ethnic Conflicts in Nation States and the Role of Social Capital in Building Sustainable Peace Among Divided Ethnic Communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka], PhD diss., University of Haifa, Haifa, (2019).

Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Yearbook, 2017, online at ( (accessed 4 June 2020).

See Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Yearbook of Palestine, 2017.

Evgenia Bystrov amd Arnon Soffer, “Israel: Demography and Density 2007–20,” Chaikin Chair in Geography, University of Haifa, Haifa, 2008.

Rassem Khamaisi, The Conflict Over Residency: Housing in Jerusalem, Reality, Obstacles, Future Needs and Policies (Jerusalem: Global Collaboration and Peace Institute, 2006).

Michal Korach and Maya Choshen, Jerusalem: Facts and Trends 2018 – The State of the City and Changing Trends, (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 2018), online at (

Maya Choshen et al., Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem, no. 32 (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 2018), online at ( (accessed 30 May 2020).

Muna Dajani, Daniela DeLeo and Nura AlKhalili, “Planned Informality as a by Product of the Occupation: The Case of Kufr Aqab Neighborhood in Jerusalem North,” Planum, Journal of Urbanism 1, no. 26 (2013): 2–10.

Human Rights Watch, “Israel: Jerusalem Palestinians Stripped of Status,” 8 August 2017, online at ( (accessed on 30 May 2020).

Human Rights Watch, “Israel: Jerusalem Palestinians Stripped of Status.”

See Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Yearbook 2017; Arieli Shaul, Kol Gvolot Yesrael [All the borders of Israel] (Tel Aviv: Yediot Safrim, 2017).

Rassem Khamaisi, “From Imposed Ceasefire Line to International Border: The Issue of the Green Line between Palestine and Israel,” Journal of Borderlands Studies 23, no. 1 (2008): 89–107.

Regarding displacement, some Palestinians were expelled from al-Maghariba and Mayadin neighborhoods in the old city of Jerusalem, in addition to Qalqilya, Jericho, and the old city of Hebron. As for Arab Jerusalem, the population decreased from around 60,000 before the war to around 33,000 after the war, as a result of displacement, especially the middle class.

Anna Hazan, Jerusalem Municipal Borders 1948–1993 (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 1995).

Alexander B. Murphy, “Historical Justification for Territorial Claims,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 80, no. 4 (1990): 531–48.

Rassem Khamaisi, “The Separation Wall Around Jerusalem/al-Quds: Truncating the Right to the City of the Palestinians,” 43nd ISOCARP Congress (2007), online at
( (accessed 30 May 2020).

The term “metropolitan” means the mother city. It is defined as a continuous urban space with geopolitical and administrative divisions, with an economic and functional integration. Each person or institution can settle in the space and choose their location freely, according to their economic potentials, their functional and social desires. This definition has regional implications and dimensions within the conflict over Jerusalem and its environs, and, therefore, Palestinians avoid using it. In contrast, Israelis formulate their geodemographic and functional policies based on this definition.

Shlomo Hasson, Haergon hamuncipaly shel metropolin Yoroshalim: Halofat Raayonyot [The Municipal Organization of the Jerusalem Metropolitan Area: Intellectual Alternatives], (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 1997).

“Statistics on Settlements and Settler Population,” B’Tselem, updated 2 January 2019, online at ( (accessed 30 May 2020). Of the total number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, 37.79 percent live outside the Jerusalem metropolitan.

Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Statistical Yearbook of Palestine, 2017.

Christine Leuenberger, “Maps as Politics: Mapping the West Bank Barriers,” Journal of Borderland Studies 31, 3 (2016): 339–64, online at ( (accessed 30 May 2020).

See “Final Version of ‘Nation-State Law’,” Arab 48, 18 July 2018, online at (accessed 30 May 2020).

Author biography: 

Rassem Khamaisi is professor of urban planning and urban geography in the department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Haifa, and head of the Center of Planning and Studies in Kafr Kanna.

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