The Battle Over Casualty Counts in Gaza

Dec 12, 2023 | Humanitarianism, Read Now

[Editor’s Note: Security & Terrorism Expert Malcolm Nance (@Malcolm Nance) raised concerns over Gaza Health Ministry casualty reports on Nov. 27, posting to X “in Islam decedents should be buried within 24 hours.  So precisely who had time to identify, document, prep, dig, and inter 16,000 KIA? The human evidence of the casualties would be overwhelming & obvious to the eye.” and “My assertion is the declared numbers don’t match the observed effort. According to HAMAS there should be dead victims EVERYWHERE in the streets or being buried in dozens of new mass graves.” and  “FYI Destruction of buildings DOES NOT equate to accountable deaths” and “destruction of buildings does not equate to accountable deaths.”]

The war between Israel and Hamas rages not only within Gaza, where Israel has a decisive advantage, but also on the battlefield of public opinion, where Hamas seems to be winning. Among the most important and contested items in this information war is the number of Gazan civilians killed.

The military action in Gaza has tragically resulted in many civilian deaths, including children, mainly because Hamas deliberately embeds itself inside and under Gazan cities. Hamas’s human shield strategy, which its leaders acknowledge, is deliberately intended to lead to elevated civilian deaths, thereby ratcheting international pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire that would leave Hamas intact.

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The UN reported on Dec. 5 a cumulative total of 16,248 Gazan fatalities, 1,041 more than it reported on Dec. 2. Inexplicably, however, over the same period the UN reported 1,353 new fatalities among women and children — even more than the number of new deaths those days. To square the figures, Hamas would have us believe that the cumulative number of men of any age killed in Gaza declined by 312, from 4,563 to 4,251, over these three days.

Similar numerical manipulations can be found in many other daily reports. For example, on Oct. 19, the UN reported that the cumulative fatality figure rose by 307, while on the same day the number of children newly reported killed increased by 671 — somehow hundreds more than the total new fatalities.

On Oct. 26, the UN reported an increase of 481 cumulative fatalities, but newly reported women and children killed increased by 626 that day. On Oct. 29, the UN reported 302 more cumulative fatalities, but the number of newly reported women and children killed increased by 328. To swallow these figures, one would have to accept that Israel killed not a single adult male on any of those days.

There are statistical improbabilities found on several other days, too, when Hamas claims that fewer than 5% of newly reported deaths were men — six out of 216 on Oct. 31, four out of 306 on Nov. 7, and 44 out of 929 on Dec. 7. Based on these numbers, Hamas effectively claims that the IDF is doing everything possible (and more) not to kill combatants, or any men at all.

While casualty numbers can be fluid amid a war, the consistent one-sided nature, magnitude, and frequency of the numerical anomalies suggest Hamas is inflating the number of women and children killed in a manner that cannot be explained by statistical margins of error or identification lags, as some may contend. It is simply not believable that, from one day to the next, and on multiple occasions, fewer than one in 20 previously unidentified or newly found bodies were men.

Press reports from Dec. 5 indicate that the IDF believes the total death count of approximately 15,000 Gazans appears accurate, but that the figure includes more than 5,000 Hamas members, mostly men. On Dec. 9, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said that at least 7,000 terrorists have been killed. These figures haven’t been independently verified, but the balance it would imply between men, women and children makes much more sense than Hamas’s figures.

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Any casualty estimate that takes into account Hamas deaths would starkly contradict the notion that Israel is bombing Gaza indiscriminately, let alone the libelous charge of genocide. While the human cost of the war Hamas forced upon Israel undeniably remains high, it is time for the UN, NGOs, and political leaders to stop using Hamas figures in their assessment of the conflict.

Instead, these numbers must be seen for what they are: the propaganda of a terrorist group that has announced its intention to commit a “million” Oct. 7 massacres.

View this Algemeiner Report from December 12th