The First Period: 1948-1960

When Israeli statehood was declared in May 1948, 64% of the Jewish population lived in or near the two largest cities, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Numerous agricultural settlements and several smaller towns were situated on the coastal plain, from the area north of Haifa to the strip south of Tel Aviv. About 80% of the Jewish population lived in these areas in 1948, and another 12% resided in Jerusalem. More than 70% of the Arab population dwelled in the north and the Haifa area.

The mass immigration of the early 1950s transformed this model of population dispersion because of deliberate Government policy. Between 1948 and 1995, the number of agricultural settlements doubled and small "development towns" were established in newly-designated development areas around the country and in the periphery. The share of the Jewish population in the southern district, a negligible 0.9% at independence, grew to 8% in 1961. The geographic dispersion of the non-Jewish population did not change significantly.

The Past Three Decades

Today, Israel is partitioned into six administrative districts that range in area from 2.9% to 58.4% of the country’s 21,946 square kilometers; each is home to between 12 and 23% of the population. Changes in the population dispersion pattern over the past thirty years are shown in Table 10.

* Growth in the peripheral districts and Jerusalem outpaced that in the ntral districts.

* The extent of relocation to the peripheral districts and Jerusalem exceeded 10%.

* During this time, the population of the Tel Aviv and Haifa districts decreased substantially, as against a modest increase in the central district.

* The southern district exhibited the most significant growth among the peripheral districts.

The apparent reason for this is deliberate governmental action that brought about extensive public building and referred recently arrived immigrants to the development areas and Jerusalem. Additional reasons are the low land prices and high fertility rates that prevail in these areas.

The proportion of urban dwellers in the population rose from 70.1% in 1955 to 90.4% in 1992. The share of the two largest population blocs, Tel Aviv-Yafo (1.9 million in 1993) and metropolitan Haifa (450,000 in 1993), decreased from 64% of the total in 1948 to 45% in 1993. Concurrently, medium and small localities have become more populous.

Population Density

Population density in Israel increased from 107.6 persons per square kilometer in 1961 to 242 in 1993, with variations from 6,727 in the Tel Aviv district (4,113 in 1961) to 49 in the southern district (12.3 in 1961). According to the official forecast of the Central Bureau of Statistics, the population of Israel will expand to 6.3 million by the year 2000, i.e., nearly 300 persons per square kilometer.

Population-Dispersion Policy

To date, the Interior Ministry planning authorities have drawn up seven population-dispersion plans on the national level, each contending with the need to settle new immigrants and cope with outfluxes from the development towns. Today, the Ministry is drawing up a national geographic-dispersion plan for a population of eight million in the year 2020. The plan envisages continued growth in the share of the population in Jerusalem and the development areas, in keeping with government investments and incentives for the private sector.

 Table 10: Population by District, 1961-1991 (Pct.)                                     1961      1991      Central districts Tel Aviv                      32.0      22.4 Central                       18.7      21.3 Haifa                         17.0      13.5 Total                         67.7      57.2      Jerusalem and peripheral districts Jerusalem                      8.8      11.9 Northern                      15.5      16.9 Southern                       8.0      12.2 Total                         32.3      41.0      TOTAL                        100.0     100.0* 

*Includes Israeli citizens in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District