When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.


Israeli Settler Birthrate Tops Palestinians — A Political Problem

As births by Israeli settlers tops Palestinians in the West Bank, the "demographic advantage" could vanish, and undermine hopes for a peace settlement.

An Israeli family enjoying sunset on a beach
An Israeli family enjoying sunset on a beach
Giordano Stabile

JERUSALEM — The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat once famously said that the wombs of Palestinian women were his "biological weapon", with a high birthrate that would outnumber Israelis and ensure the establishment of the Palestine nation.

Today, that "demographic firepower" is in the hands of Israel. A wave of migration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, combined with a soaring birthrate among Jewish settlers in the West Bank, have shifted the demographic calculus in the region. The Israeli birthrate is now just over three children per woman — as high as five for the ultra-Orthodox — compared to just under three per woman among Palestinians.

Israel's current population of 8.5 million has increased tenfold since independence in 1948. While the country's population statistics include East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and settlements in the West Bank that aren't recognized as Israeli territory by the international community, the demographic trend is unmistakable. After declining to 2.8 births per woman in the early 1990s, the Israeli birthrate rose to 3.1 last year. Analyzed by religion, it's now 3.1 for Jews, 3.3 for Muslim Arabs, and just 2.2 for Christian Arabs.

While statistics for the West Bank only are unavailable, unofficial estimates point to an average of 2.8 births per woman — lower than Israel's, and down from the remarkable 8 per woman of the 1970s. There are 2.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank in addition to the 220,000 living in East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel in 1967. That population also rose tenfold since 1948 but the increase has since slowed, compared to the influx of Jewish settlers who now number 400,000 in the West Bank and 350,000 in East Jerusalem.

Settlers seem to have taken the Biblical instruction to "be fruitful and multiply" literally, and represent the fastest-growing demographic in the region with a yearly population increase of 3%. While the United Nations has criticized the expansion of West Bank settlements as an obstacle to peace, the construction boom has created tensions within Israel over competition for limited living space.


Israel's surface area is roughly 21,000 square kilometers, slightly smaller than New Jersey. But its population density, at 366 people per square kilometer, ranks among the highest in the world. "We need 40,000 to 60,000 new apartments each year," says Alon Tal, a demographer at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. "This pace of construction puts our biodiversity at risk."

Israel will reach 15 million inhabitants in 2050 if the current birthrate and rate of immigration hold, with a density of 750 people per square kilometer — similar to the largest cities in the U.S. Other than the expanse of the Negev desert, where increased immigration is expected around the city of Beersheba, the rest of the country will effectively become one vast urban area.

These demographic trends worry not only locals, but also foreign powers seeking to relaunch peace talks between Israel and Palestine. The West Bank, just 5,600 square kilometers in size, is similarly small and overpopulated with scarce land and water resources, not to mention Gaza — a 365-square-kilometer strip of land with more than 1.8 million inhabitants and a birthrate of 5 children per woman. As if history and geopolitics weren't enough, a demographic time bomb is now added to the list of intractable issues to solve in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.


What's Spoiling The Kids: The Big Tech v. Bad Parenting Debate

Without an extended family network, modern parents have sought to raise happy kids in a "hostile" world. It's a tall order, when youngsters absorb the fears (and devices) around them like a sponge.

Image of a kid wearing a blue striped sweater, using an ipad.

Children exposed to technology at a very young age are prominent today.

Julián de Zubiría Samper


BOGOTÁ — A 2021 report from the United States (the Youth Risk Behavior Survey) found that 42% of the country's high-school students persistently felt sad and 22% had thought about suicide. In other words, almost half of the country's young people are living in despair and a fifth of them have thought about killing themselves.

Such chilling figures are unprecedented in history. Many have suggested that this might be the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but sadly, we can see depression has deeper causes, and the pandemic merely illustrated its complexity.

I have written before on possible links between severe depression and the time young people spend on social media. But this is just one aspect of the problem. Today, young people suffer frequent and intense emotional crises, and not just for all the hours spent staring at a screen. Another, possibly more important cause may lie in changes to the family composition and authority patterns at home.

Firstly: Families today have fewer members, who communicate less among themselves.

Young people marry at a later age, have fewer children and many opt for personal projects and pets instead of having children. Families are more diverse and flexible. In many countries, the number of children per woman is close to or less than one (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong among others).

In Colombia, women have on average 1.9 children, compared to 7.6 in 1970. Worldwide, women aged 15 to 49 years have on average 2.4 children, or half the average figure for 1970. The changes are much more pronounced in cities and among middle and upper-income groups.

Of further concern today is the decline in communication time at home, notably between parents and children. This is difficult to quantify, but reasons may include fewer household members, pervasive use of screens, mothers going to work, microwave ovens that have eliminated family cooking and meals and, thanks to new technologies, an increase in time spent on work, even at home. Our society is addicted to work and devotes little time to minors.

Keep reading...Show less

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

The latest