Order the spring issue here

The country is full!

The Land Is Full. Addressing Overpopulation In Israel
Forfatter: Alon Tal
Forlag: Yale University Press (USA)
Israeli researchers use their own land to demonstrate how the population can run wild.


Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, did not like the smattering. He always went straight to the case. Thus, when he met a woman, he was known to ask her how many children she had. Said the woman "three," the prompt came from Ben Gurion: "Why not four?"

Closest in the OECD

This was back in the 1950s. The Israeli population had just rounded a million, and it was considered a matter of great national importance to raise the population by all means. The philosophy behind this was that only with a comfortable majority of the population could the Jewish state assert itself and win respect in the region.

This thinking is in many ways intact to this day, and it is seen in the census. Norway takes up nearly 19 times as much on the map as Israel, where today almost 9 millions live. This means that Israel, together with South Korea, is the most densely populated country in the OECD, and it has the highest population growth. According to the gloomiest forecasts, 36 millions of people in 2050 will have to squeeze into the same piece of land.

Population race

The Land Is Full is the title of a new book in which Alon Tal, who works with demographics at the University of Tel Aviv, describes the development and its dire consequences. And not least does he explain how it has come so far and why the Israelis are steadfastly maintaining this disaster rate. The early generations' belief in children's numbers is an important factor. It had to do with regionalism, and the image also included an inherent urge to compensate for the Nazi killing of 6 million Jews during World War II. It was also emphasized that Israel should be a haven for Jews everywhere. An ever-present law meant that every Jew could become a citizen with almost immediate effect. But furthermore, there was what came to be known as "the demographic race". The number of children was also high among the Palestinians, so many children were a necessity to fulfill the Zionist dream of a state with a Jewish population majority.

When he was young, it was the author's ambition to have six children – one for every million who perished during the Holocaust.

All this has survived. And in recent decades, another element has emerged, namely a growing religiosity, which has characterized the development throughout the Middle East. Among other things, religious Jews live up to the biblical command to become diverse, and this has led to even larger groups of children, and not necessarily in the productive part of the population. Where just 25 years ago it was common for an ultra-Orthodox family to have 5–7 children, today the number is often 10–12.


Numbers describe the inclined plane based on the model in which the American demographer Warren Simpson Thompson in 1929 described human development as four phases. The first phase covers the period from the origin of agriculture more than 10 years ago to the 000th century. During all that time, man put many children in the world as an old-age insurance, but at the same time population growth was modest because mortality was high. The first signs of the second phase were seen in 18th-century Europe, where the yields of agriculture began to grow, accompanied by industrialization and urbanization. The vaccine also made its entrance, and man gained an understanding of the usefulness of clean drinking water and personal hygiene. But they still had many children, because as far as that is concerned, man is conservative. According to Alon Tal, countries such as Nigeria, Yemen and Afghanistan are around today. In the third stage, growth begins to slow down. The improved state of health makes people realize that there should probably be someone to take care of one, even if one chooses to have only a few children, and pension schemes and social safety nets increase security. Finally, there is the fourth phase, which can probably best be described as the high-tech society. Here one can afford to live with declining populations because the economy continues to grow anyway.

Deteriorated quality of life

Israel is still stuck in a series of performances. Ben Gurion equated women who did not have children with military conscientious objectors, and this is of course not perceived as glaring today. But it is still something of a taboo not to have children.

All this settles down. The morning traffic towards the big city of Tel Aviv is a daily hell of queues. In the afternoon, when the working day is over, it repeats itself in the opposite direction. The economy of society suffers from all this wasted time, and it goes beyond the ordinary quality of life. The environment is also heavily burdened by the doings and barn of the many people.

The morning traffic towards Tel Aviv is a daily hell of queues.

The author says indignantly that he was once on the wagon. When he was young, it was his ambition to have six children – one for every million who perished during the Holocaust. But today he has regained his composure, and the book is therefore equal parts basic research and party contributions in an important debate. He protests, for example, that the state discriminates against him by paying increased child benefit rates to large families – or "child-blessed families", as it is called in Hebrew.

Hope for peace

It is not too late to reverse the trend, but it is high time. And Tal sees a trend in the right direction. The frustration over high house prices is noticeable and this phenomenon can be seen as a direct consequence of population growth. An ordinary Israeli family with children today has to spend 191 monthly salaries to buy an average home, which is five times as much as in Scandinavia, he points out. There is a widespread desire among Israelis for a better life and a more just society, and much of it stems from this. And if a solution can be found in this area, it is possible that the Israeli people will by themselves also demand a better relationship with the neighbors, namely the Palestinians, which can thus become a hope for peace.

Hans Henrik Fafner
Hans Henrik Fafner
Fafner is a regular critic in Ny Tid. Residing in Tel Aviv.

You may also like