The Israeli government has always regarded population as a tool for spatial planning and settlement. In a country where agricultural workers constitute only a tiny proportion of the labor force, and where the location of industry is often not guided by the location of natural resources, social, economic, and geopolitical considerations, along with environmental concerns, determined the geographic distribution of the population. The state provides meaningful economic incentives in housing, labor, and tax relief to attract people to high priority areas of settlement. These factors, together with individual and familial characteristics, such as educational attainment, economic status, and ideological orientation, shape the patterns of residential mobility and population distribution.
Israel is a small country. Its size is 21,000 square kilometers. Much of this area is under military control, which precludes residential use. Overall, in 2014, there were 1,211 towns in Israel. This includes 125 Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Nearly 90 percent of Israeli towns are Jewish. They are distributed among six official national districts: Jerusalem, North, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Center, and South; in addition, there are Jewish settlements in the West Bank (and during the period 1967-2005 also in Gaza).
Over the seven decades since statehood, two districts have maintained their share of the population (i.e., their population growth rate was similar to that of the national scene): Jerusalem, whose Jewish population ranged between 10 and 12 percent of the total Israeli Jewish population, and the North district whose population accounted for between 8 and 10 percent of the total (Figure 4.1). Two districts, Haifa and Tel Aviv, experienced a diminution of approximately half their share of the total population: Haifa district from 21 percent in 1948 to 11 percent at the beginning of 2015; and Tel Aviv from 43 to 20 percent, respectively.
Figure 4.1. The Geographic Distribution of Israeli Jewish Population, by Districts, 1948-2015
Over time, the Jewish population has concentrated more and more in the Central district, the South, and the West Bank. The increase in the share of the Southern area lasted until the mid-1990s. The next several years will bear out whether and to what extent the intense development of the Negev, especially the relocation of large military bases there from the center of the country, will be accompanied by population movement which can strengthen the South district vis-à-vis other parts of the country. The West Bank today is home for nearly 6 percent of Israel’s Jewish population.
For the sake of illustration, we merged into one geographic unit all the areas that were annexed to Israel following the Six-Day War, as well as the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. For this exercise we subtracted the Jewish population of the Golan Heights from the North district, and Jews who reside in the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem from Jerusalem district. In 2015, the Jews in the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank together account for 9.3 percent of the total Israeli Jewish population.
For each district separately, figure 4.2 presents the ratio between the Jewish population and the non-Jewish population, and how this balance has changed over time. In all districts, the share of Jews has diminished and that of non-Jews increased. In 1948, almost the entire population of Jerusalem district (98 percent) were Jews. Following the unification of the city in 1967 a large number of non-Jews were annexed to the city and, at once, the proportion of Jews declined to three-fourths of the local population and further to two-thirds today. The North district, which had a slight surplus of Jews following the mass immigration to Israel, is characterized today by a non-Jewish majority. The Haifa district has experienced a decline in the share of Jews: from 85 percent in 1948 to only slightly more than two-thirds today. Two districts – Tel Aviv and Center, kept the Jewish/non-Jewish equilibrium fairly stable with a clear majority of the former (around 90 percent). Also, in the South, the 1961 robust 89 percent Jewish majority has declined to less than two-thirds today.
Figure 4.2. Percentage of Jews by District of Residence, 1948-2015
Overall, in each of the three districts, Jerusalem, North and Haifa, the proportion of Jews is lower than their share in the national population (three-fourth); in one district, the South, the share of Jews resembles their proportion of the total national population, and in Tel Aviv and Central district there is a higher concentration of Jews relative to their share of the overall Israeli population.
The size of the Jewish population in each district, and their proportion of the total local population, is determined, among other things, by in- and out-migration (internal migration balance). A positive balance is evidence of strong holding factors for veteran inhabitants and pull factors for newcomers; a negative balance indicates push factors that drive people away and dissuade newcomers. Spatial mobility is a widespread phenomenon in Israel. In every year between 2010 and 2014, some 15 thousand people moved from one district to another (including the West Bank).
These internal movements have resulted in population gains in two major areas: Center district (a surplus of some 50 thousand in-migrants over out-migrants), and Jewish settlements in the West Bank (a gain of some 16 thousand people). The rest of the districts have experienced declining Jewish populations: Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have lost a rather similar number of inhabitants – 29 and 25 thousand respectively; and the two peripheral districts, South and North – approximately 11 and 4 thousand, respectively.
The migration balance of each district has changed slightly over time, fluctuating between high balance (positive or negative) years and years of diminished balance, and so forth. These observations show the tendency of the Israeli Jewish public to prefer the Center district over the North, South and Jerusalem; and to settle in the West Bank. Although we do not have information on the characteristics of the migrants, it stands to reason that the Center has gained mainly secular and traditional inhabitants, while the West Bank migrants have tended to be religious or even Ultra-Orthodox.2 On one hand, the movement of specific Jewish sub-groups to the Center, and different sub-groups to the West Bank on the other, has resulted in spatial separation, namely physical distance of groups one from another.