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Jews and Arabs in the State of Israel and the State of Palestine

Global populations


Global population total




The global population of Jews remains under pre-Holocaust totals. Jews have been traditionally recognized as a distinct population under both traditional cultural norms as well as the Ottoman legal system which preceded the State of Israel.

At its core, this covers people recognized as Jewish by a Jewish community. This generally means anyone who can be married in a Jewish religious court. However, it also includes some people registered officially as having “no religion” even if they are considered to have Jewish nationality, such as hundreds of thousands of Israelis who have been born to non-Jewish mothers or who have any matrilineal descent from non-Orthodox converts.



The global population of Arabs has undergone significant growth in the Demographic Transition. The Arab world is predominantly Muslim, with Christian and other minorities; there are also numerous denominations within these broader religious categories. The definition here is approximate, as it counts the population of Arab League countries, although there are Arabs who are citizens of other countries, and also non-Arabs who are citizens of these countries.



The global population of Palestinians was previously concentrated in Palestine (Eretz Yisrael) but today is split between diaspora and non-diaspora populations. In reports, the term “Palestinians” may refer most specifically to Palestine Citizens, or may refer most broadly to people with Palestinian ancestry regardless of citizenship; its usage is not always entirely clear. Also, the term is often used to refer to various cross-sections of the broader Palestinian population.

Although the PLO definition of Palestinians includes some Jewish communities, no community of Jews identifies as Palestinian in the modern day besides, perhaps, Palestinian converts to Judaism. Before the State of Israel’s establishment, the use of Palestine and Palestinian was common among Jews and Zionists, but today this term has become synonymous with Arabness and antizionism. Arab land laws deemed it illegal for Jews to buy land, and subsequent Palestinian charters such as the Hamas Covenant have explicitly excluded Jews. As a result, the label Palestinian does technicaly include all people who were in Palestine up until the eve of Israel’s independence, but practically speaking, only applies this as long as they are not Jewish.

Citizens and non-citizens


Population total




Israel Citizens



Jewish, Arab, or others

Israeli citizens include Jews, Arabs, Druze, Circassians, and other nationalities and religious communities.

Israeli Jews




The only Jewish-majority localities remaining in the world are in the State of Israel. Over 99.9% of all Jew were expelled from the Islamic world in the 20th century, except for the State of Israel as a breakaway region.

Israeli Arabs




There are two primary communities of Israeli Arabs:

  • Palestinian Citizens of Israel.

  • Syrian Citizens of Israel

Arab Residents in Israel




There are two primary communities of Arab Residents in Israel (ARIs). These are people who are granted permanent residency because they are indigenous to an area annexed after 1949; they have the option to apply for citizenship, but it is not compulsory. There are several hundred thousand ARIs who have the option to apply for Israeli citizenship, but by choosing not to do so, can be understood as deliberately self-identifying as non-Israeli.

  • Palestinian Residents of Israel.

  • Syrian Residents of Israel

Palestinian Workers in Israel

Palestine or stateless


There are also many workers who come into the State of Israel for hours, days, or weeks at a time on work permits.

Palestine Citizens

Up to 5,000,000

Palestine or stateless


There are about 5 million Arabs who live in the sixteen governorates of the State of Palestine, who are eligible to obtain citizenship for the State of Palestine.

Recognized religions and nationhoods

Ottoman millet system, and ethnic/religious pluralism

In the Ottoman Empire, the population had Ottoman citizenship, but non-Muslim populations were recognized as millets. The Turkish word millet originates from the Arabic word مِلة which appears in the Quran, meaning a group of people in a semi-political, tribal, or perhaps national sense. It translates as nation or people in English.

Because the Ottoman Empire was a Caliphate — an Islamic government — there was no purpose for a separate, additional Islamic court system. However, in order to absorb non-Muslim religious decisions into the Ottoman legal system, certain non-Muslim communities were designated as millets with the ability to establish religious courts that could handle their own personal status concerns such as membership in the religious community (e.g., Who is Jewish?), or issues of marriage, divorce, or certain other lifecycle events.

The Ottoman millet system was continued by the British, and the State of Israel adopted and expanded upon this system. There are now fourteen different religious court systems (comparable to the self-administration role of millets) which function as part of the judiciary, in addition to seventeen nationalities (comparable to the millets' relationship vis-à-vis the government, e.g. with the capacity to negotiate mandatory conscription, the exemption process, and so forth) which can be registered in the Population Registry. There are some key differences with the Ottoman millet system. First of all, the State of Israel recognizes Jews as their own religious community and nationality alongside the rest, while the Ottomans applied the millet system only to minorities. Also, the State of Israel takes a less simplistic approach, recognizing Druze as separate from Muslims, and acknowledging many different Christian denominations.

Recognized nations

In the State of Israel, there are seventeen different nationalities recognized and which are included in the Population Registry; each nationality has distinguishing characteristics. Despite the large number of nationalities, the majority of the population is either Jewish, Arab, Druze, or Circassian.

  • Seventeen nationalities

    • Jewish

    • Arab

    • Druze

    • Circassian

    • Aramean

    • And twelve more

Recognized religions

In the State of Israel, there are fourteen different recognized religious communities and which have thus been able to create their own religious courts able to register marriage, divorce, and so forth with the government.

  • Fourteen religious communities

    • Jewish

    • Muslim

    • Druze

    • Bahai'i

    • Greek Orthodox

    • Armenian Orthodox

    • Syriac Orthodox

    • (Latin) Roman Catholic

    • Maronite

    • (Melkite) Greek Catholic

    • Syriac Catholic

    • Armenian Catholic

    • Chaldean Catholic

    • (Anglican) Episcopal.

      • Recognized since 1970.

Additional groups




Bedouins are a distinct society with a nomadic tradition. Individuals generally count as Bedouin based on self-identification, and intra-community recognition. They are members of the Arab nation, and in many ways are part of the Palestinian narratives; recognizing their distinctiveness is not meant to divie them away from Arab and Palestinian issues which impact their lives.


Druze are a closed ethnoreligious group that have a clear definition: someone is Druze if both of their parents are Druze, and if they are recognized by the Druze community as Druze. The main contestations are whether they are politically affiliated with Jewish Zionism or Palestinian Arabaism, but both Jewish and Arab groups recognize the Druze as being a distinct community in the broader Arabsphere.


State of Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics: Jewish Population in the World and in Israel, population/st02_11.pdf

Archived at Jewish population of the world and Israel

State of Palestine’s Central Bureau of Statistics: About 13 million Palestinians in the Historical Palestine and Diaspora, &ItemID=3503

United Nations: Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on the Arab Region. An Opportunity to Build Back Better, brief_covid-19_and_arab_states_english_version_july_2020.pdf

Focus on Israel: The Christian Communities of Israel
by Yishai Eldar,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, State of Israel