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The missing third / a million and a quarter of the residents of the territories are registered but not physically present

Moshe Elad

The debate that arose recently between two groups of academic researchers about the true number of residents of the Territories is reminiscent of the case of the senior lecturer from one of the universities in Israel, who asked during the first intifada to serve as a consultant for Arab affairs in the Territories. "I am an Orientalist", he described his profession when he was interviewed by the coordinator of operations in the territories. "Orientalist?" The coordinator asked, "Just so you know, for me an oriental is someone whose clothes smell of tabun or someone who is able to replace the muezzin in prayer at the mosque, or at least someone who can take a quick look at a certain village and determine how many residents live there." Yes, when it comes to territories, the eyes are the most accurate statistical tool.

Three basic facts should be known in the demographic context of the residents of the territories. The first - the only population census ever held there was conducted in 1967 and its data, which were not reliable enough anyway, were the basis for any assessment, not to mention speculation, for the future. In the past, the elders of the territories used to justify, perhaps humorously, the gaps in the data with the reason that most of the Israeli surveyors, who were of Ashkenazi origin, had difficulty pronouncing the letter h in Arabic, and as a result instead of the question "Have you worked yet?" The attendants made a mistake and asked the Palestinian resident "Have you been castrated yet?" No wonder many tried for their lives and did not return to their homes to this day. The second - the speculations about the size of the population in the territories were always based on assessment and uneven and even contradictory statistical models, and the inconsistency between the various bodies reached the point of absurdity. Thus, for example, in 1980, the Central Bureau of Statistics determined that 704 thousand people were found in the West Bank at the same time that the staff officer for statistics at the IOS, who was supposed to provide the data to the bureau, reported a number of 750 thousand. And the figures of the Ministry of the Interior for that year indicated a total of 871 thousand.

The third fact - the Palestinian public in the territories is characterized by an unwillingness to check the data in depth, and here and there there is even a tendency to distort it, a phenomenon whose roots must be sought in the days of the Turkish government, which imposed harsh tax decrees on the residents following each population census.

The debate on this issue is not new. For years there has been a secret battle between the "academy" and the "territory" elements regarding the correct number of residents of the territories. Demographic experts, some of whom have never set foot in the territories, talk about "natural reproduction rates", about "fertility levels", about "migration balances", but their data base is very flawed. That is, their starting point is wrong. On the other hand, it was the members of the military government and the civil administration who were satisfied with a sample physical count of the houses and their occupants, the number of water and electricity meters and conversations with the mohthars and the heads of the settlements. The latter's conclusion, which has never received academic or statistical expression, was that there are far fewer residents in the area than what is published in the media.

This theoretical debate ended in 1991. On the eve of the first Gulf War, the High Court of Justice ordered the Civil Administration of the IOS to provide personal protective equipment to the residents of several dozen villages and towns bordering the Green Line. The Ministry of the Interior penned the bargain and prepared for this mini-command. The ministry meticulously prepared the population registry data that had been in its possession since 67 and which were regularly "updated" in the local registry offices based on birth and death data provided by the registered and the heads of local authorities. At the end of the partition operation, a sensational figure was discovered, which was passed as the second thread in all those dozens of settlements - about a third of the Palestinian residents were "missing".

Even after 14 years, nothing dramatic happened in the territories that changed the situation. Even today, in 2005, I am convinced that one-third of the residents of the territories that appear in the records, approximately one and a quarter million people, are physically missing and there is no chance that they will return to the territories, since some of them are no longer alive, some of them live abroad and are waiting for the realization of the "right of return", and some of them are fictitious names .

Col. (res.) Moshe Elad previously served as governor of Jenin and Bethlehem and currently researches Palestinian society at the University of Haifa

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