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British Census of Palestine 1931


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The British conducted a census in 1931 while administering the mandate for Palestine. The report started by defining the area of Palestine. “For purposes of this Report the eastern boundary is the median line of the Jordan Valley running south to a point just west of Aqaba because that part of Palestine which lies east of the Jordan, and which is known as Trans-Jordan, is under a separate administration, and the census of Palestine taken in 1931 relates only to that part of the whole territory which lies west of the Jordan [River]” (p. 9).


The report noted that the land area of Palestine is 25,483 square kilometers (just under 10,000 square miles). The British transferred 10.5 square kilometers (4 square miles) to Syria from Palestine after 1922 and 68.75 square kilometers (27 square miles) to Transjordan. Palestine had a net gain in territory, however, from the transfer of 307.50 square kilometers (119 square miles) from Syria (p. 17).

Note that the Jewish population doubled during this period, but the change in the non-Jewish population (187,196) was greater than the entire Jewish population (174,610). According to these figures, Jews comprised 17% of the total population of Palestine, Muslims 73%, and Christians 9% (p. 67).

Population Change in Palestine Between 1922 and 1931


Actual Population


Percent Change

Percentage of Population































Of the Jewish population, 73,195 (42%) were born in Palestine and 101,415 (58%) in other countries ­– 20% were born in Poland, 16% were born in Russian territories and about 10% were born in various Asiatic countries. Of the population born in foreign countries, 79%, representing 80,347 persons, were born in European countries. Of those born in European countries, nearly 45% were born in Poland, 34% were born in Russia and only 0.5% were born in the United Kingdom (pp. 60-61).

The report also noted the development of the Jewish community and referred to it as a “nationality” whereas the Arab community had only “a vague conception of an Arab ‘nationality’”:

In addition, however, to the development of this complex of religious communities, a political development has taken place, and the Jewish Community existing as legal entity, and created historically under a principle of religious freedom, has now a specifically political character. The following quotation descriptive of the community is extracted from Command Paper No. 1700 of the 1st of July, 1922: –
. . . The Jewish community in Palestine has its own political organs: an elected assembly for the direction of its domestic concerns elected councils in the towns: and an organization for the control of its schools. It has its elected Chief Rabbinate and Rabbinical Council for the direction of its religious affairs. The business is conducted in Hebrew as a vernacular language, and a Hebrew Press serves its needs. It has its distinctive intellectual life and displays considerable economic activity. This community, then, with its town and country population, its political, religious and social organizations, its own language, its own customs, its own life, has, in fact, ‘national’ characteristics.
In fact, the Jewish Community is a “nationality.” The consciousness of the existence of this “nationality” has led the non-Jewish religious communities to a vague conception of an Arab “nationality.” This Arab “nationality” has no legal existence since there is no Arab community in any formal sense. Its basis is perhaps best described as an awareness, on the part of members of some of the non-Jewish religious communities, of the possibility of common factors in the aims of the several communities. This awareness found its expression in a request during the preparations for the census from the Arab Census Committee that persons enumerated at the census should be given the opportunity of declaring an Arab “nationality” (pp. 72-73).

When referring to Palestinians, the report includes Jews, Muslims, and Christians (p. 69). No mention is made of any Palestinian nationality.

Source: E. Mills, “Census of Palestine 1931, Vol. 1,” (Alexandria: Whitehead Morris Ltd., 1933).