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Hamas’ impossible casualty figures

Mar 28, 2024 | AIJAC staff

Palestinian Red Crescent workers from Al-Najjar Hospital in the city of Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, on January 10, 2024 (Image: Shutterstock)
Palestinian Red Crescent workers from Al-Najjar Hospital in the city of Rafah, south of the Gaza Strip, on January 10, 2024 (Image: Shutterstock)

Update 03/24 #1

One constant in the media coverage of the Israel-Hamas war has been the incessant quoting of the casualty figures provided by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health (MoH). Just about every article that covers the war gives the latest updated overall casualty numbers, followed by a phrase informing readers that 70% of these are women and children. However, as the two articles below demonstrate, these figures are not only highly dubious, but impossible.

The first, from Fathom is written by population model expert Tom Simpson, biomathematician Lewi Stone and international law expert and AIJAC visiting fellow Prof Gregory Rose. They examine the figures provided by the MoH itself, and demonstrate through analysis that the 70% figure is a “disinformation tool founded on statistical manipulation rather than realities on the ground,” and that the true percentage is significantly lower. The article goes on to conclusively demonstrate why this is the case and that the figures provided by Hamas are actually impossible. To read this important debunking, CLICK HERE.

The second piece, by Gabriel Epstein of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, similarly analyses the MoH figures and the methodologies used to compile them to also conclude among other things that the claims about the high proportion of women and children among the casualties are “very likely incorrect”. To read this expose of the credibility gaps in these figures, CLICK HERE.


Statistically Impossible: A Critical Analysis of Hamas’s Women and Children Casualty Figures

Fathom – March 2024

Tom Simpson, Lewi Stone and Gregory Rose

 

How reliable are the casualty figures issued by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry? The answer offered in this article is blunt: not reliable at all. The authors are Tom Simpson, a generalist economist who researches population models and other topics, Lewi Stone, who has decades of experience working as a biomathematician at Tel Aviv University and recently at RMIT University in Melbourne where his research interests include digital humanities, and Gregory Rose of the University of Wollongong, who has published extensively on international law in the Arab-Israel conflict.

 

On 29 February 2024, the Gazan Ministry of Health announced that the ongoing war had resulted in 30,022 Gazan casualties, 70 per cent of whom are women and children (see Figure 1). Every single death is a human tragedy, and this analysis does not seek to suggest that the death toll has not been considerable or to minimise the suffering of the people of Gaza. However, a dispassionate counting of wartime casualties has become essential to the study of armed conflict, and statistics pertaining to the present war all come from organisations operating under the Hamas government. This has led to significant debate about the reliability of both the total death count and its constituent makeup in terms of combatants and civilian men, women, and children. This paper demonstrates that the casualty figures concerning women and children are statistically impossible. Our results cast serious doubt on all other aspects of the Gazan death counts.

The Gazan Ministry of Health (MoH) has repeatedly claimed that 70 per cent of Gazan deaths are women and children. We first found the claim in the MoH’s 11 December 2023 report.[1] In 2024, the MoH has repeated this claim in all seven of its reports that we have been able to obtain so far this year (see Figure 2). The 70 per cent figure has also been widely cited in the media, with a recent BBC fact-check even using it to criticise IDF statistics on eliminated Hamas combatants. But how trustworthy is the 70 per cent statistic? It should be kept in mind that the Gazan MoH operates under the auspices of the Hamas government, giving it a vested interest in delegitimising Israel and demonising the IDF.


Figure 1. Deaths over Gaza war reported in BBC factcheck of IDF. Women and children comprise 70 per cent of all deaths. Figure as found on BBC site.



Figure 2. Top panel: Gazan Ministry of Health reports released on dates indicated by blue circles (see Appendix 1 for MoH reports). In their opening page, all these reports claim that women and children comprise 70 per cent of the death toll. Lower Panel: Arabic excerpt as it appears in the Ministry of Health 31 December 2023 report. ‘The cumulative number of martyrs since the beginning of the aggression reached 21,978 martyrs, 70 per cent of whom were children and women (6,929 whom were registered through the central information system, while more than 15,349 of whom were monitored according to reliable media …).’ Identical language appears in reports since at least 11 December 2023 (See Appendix 2 of this article for several more examples).

STATISTICAL ABSURDITIES

It turns out this ‘70 per cent’ figure is contradicted by the statistics that the MoH itself provides in its own reports. It is a disinformation tool founded on statistical manipulation rather than realities on the ground. The BBC ‘factcheckers’ and other western media could easily have determined this for themselves, using publicly available information.

To begin with, note that two very different sources inform the MoH’s death counts. The first source is Gaza’s still-functioning hospitals, which are concentrated in the south of the Gaza Strip. Supposedly, these hospitals and morgues register specific corpses on-site before adding them to the counts. Even these statistics have been manipulated – consider the debunked 471 death count of the Al-Ahli hospital bombing, whose deaths were supposedly registered at hospitals. However, these hospital-registered deaths at least involve a recording process with a pretence of verification. The hospital-reported deaths are detailed in the MoH’s reports, providing disaggregated statistics on the age and gender of casualties.

According to these statistics, hospital-registered deaths contain substantially fewer women and children than implied by the 70 per cent figure. For instance, an MoH report released on the 3 March showed that since the start of the war only 58 per cent of the hospital-registered deaths are women and children (see bar-chart reproduced in Appendix 3 of this article). If we restrict analysis to 2024 deaths alone, this figure drops all the way down to 42 per cent. This is still a large proportion, but it should be remembered that women and children (the latter defined as persons under 18 years of age) make up of 75 per cent of Gaza’s population. As such, this 42 per cent figure actually reflects a significant avoidance of civilian casualties on the part of the IDF.

RELIANCE ON UNSPECIFIED ‘MEDIA SOURCES’

How can the Ministry of Health persist in its claims that 70 per cent of the total dead are women and children? This is where the MoH’s other source of data becomes relevant.

According to a 29 February MoH report, of 30,228 total deaths, only 17,285 were identified and registered in hospitals. The other 12,943 (43 per cent) were unregistered and collected solely from ‘reliable media sources,’ ‘though the ministry doesn’t cite or say which sources those are,’ as emphasised by Aya Batrawi, an NPR journalist covering the conflict. She reported that this reliance on public sources of information is partly ‘the result of multiple communication blackouts, in which phone lines and internet service were cut in Gaza … This made it difficult to communicate with hospitals and upload the number of casualties to the ministry’s database.’

Such recording difficulties are understandable in wartime situations. Nonetheless, it remains true that the MoH provides very little information about the recording of these ‘unregistered’ deaths. Now consider these ambiguously sourced ‘unregistered’ deaths in light of the claimed ‘70 per cent women and children’ statistic. Clearly, this 70 per cent figure does not accord with the far lower ratio of women and children casualties supposedly registered at hospitals. Could it be that the unregistered ‘media sources’ deaths contain a higher proportion of women and children, thus making up the shortfall? This is where the Ministry of Health’s statistics become a disinformation tool.

Consider all the Gazan war deaths from 2023. According to the Ministry of Health, 21,978 Gazans died between 7 October and 31 December. Of these, 15,349 (70 per cent) were registered at hospitals and 6,629 (30 per cent) came from unregistered ‘media sources’ (in the relevant Ministry of Health document, Hamas misreports the number of ‘media sources’ dead as 6,929, even though a consideration of the other figures shows it must be 6,629).[2] The hospital women and children death ratio was 60 per cent. Using the MoH’s ‘rule’ that 70 per cent of total dead are women and children, we can calculate the implied ratio of women and children deaths in the unregistered ‘media sources’ category, which turns out to be 92 per cent (see Appendix 4 of this article for details of calculation). This 92 per cent figure is statistically absurd. It would mean the IDF targeted women and children with impossible efficacy while going out of its way to avoid killing men.
It is worth noting that another Hamas-affiliated entity, the Government Media Organisation (GMO), has provided updates on the number of women and children killed across all of Gaza (see our online ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’ for screen captures of many of these reports, linked to in Appendix 1 of this article). In 2023, the GMO published these reports regularly and was, in fact, the primary source of data on Gazan war casualties after 11 November 2023 until around the end of the year. This year, 2024, the GMO has provided fewer updates on women and children deaths, but its total death statistics consistently and exactly match those provided by the MoH, implying a high degree of co-operation between the organisations.

Consider the MoH and GMO’s statistics for all of 2023. According to the MoH, Gazan hospitals registered the deaths of 4,659 women, 4,602 children, and 6,098 men in the 2023 phase of the war. This equals 15,349 hospital-registered deaths, which added to the MoH’s claimed ‘media sourced’ number of deaths yields a total of 21,978. The GMO claimed an identical 21,978 figure for 2023, made up of 15,880 women and children casualties and 6,088 men. This yields a women and children death ratio of 72.25 per cent – very close to the MoH’s frequently cited 70 per cent figure. Almost exactly the identical proportion is found in GMO announcements in February and March 2024. Please see our online ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’ for screen captures of these reports (a web link to the companion document is provided in Appendix 1 of this article).

By subtracting the MoH gender breakdowns from the GMO gender breakdowns, we can reverse engineer the precise gender breakdowns that must have been used in the ‘media sources’ category i.e., the unregistered deaths. And so, according to the figures provided by these various Hamas-affiliated organisations, of the unregistered ‘media sources’ deaths in 2023:

  • 4,678 deaths were children
  • 1,941 deaths were women
  • 10 deaths were men

The calculation for these figures may be found in the ‘Claim 7’ section of our online ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’ (see Appendix 1 of this article for the web link). The ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’ also contains screen captures of all the relevant primary sources.

Figure 3 visually depicts the above results. The graph speaks for itself. The Ministry of Health’s figures are invalid. This is especially true of the unregistered ‘Media Sources’ deaths that represent an ever-increasing proportion of the total death count. It appears they are manipulated to contain an impossibly low number of males, thereby maintaining the 70 per cent total death ratio for women and children. Ultimately, the MoH published data is disinformation. It is impossible to consider these numbers true, reliable or even feasible.

Since very little is known about this unregistered data and it seems to be of limited reliability, it is difficult to identify the true proportion and number of women and children who have died in the Gaza war. From the registered data, which is the only data we can use to calculate the ratio, it appears to have been 42 per cent[3] in 2024, and not the 70 per cent as suggested by the MoH, GMO, BBC, AP, and many other media sources. And not the absurd 99 per cent sometimes implied by Hamas’s data (see Figure 3).


Figure 3 Fraudulent Gazan ‘Media Sources’ Death Statistics in the Gaza War, 2023. The ratio of women and children dead exceeds 99 per cent. The composition of the unregistered deaths broken down into age and gender is completely unrepresentative of the Gazan population. Sources: Gazan Ministry of Health and Government Media Office (see our online ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’ for screen captures of primary sources, available via the web link in Appendix 1 of this article. The ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’ also contains a link to the relevant MoH report).

DISAPPEARING MALE DEATHS AND OTHER DISCREPANCIES

The preceding discussion primarily focussed on distortions in the MoH’s unregistered ‘media sources’ category of deaths. However, the MoH and GMO data contains many other significant anomalies. Several of these oddities have recently been noted elsewhere, for instance by Salo AizenbergGabriel Epstein, and Abraham Wyner. Perhaps the most bizarre examples of disinformation occurred in early December, when the GMO was the leading provider of Gazan casualty statistics. Between 1 December and 8 December the recorded number of dead men declined from 4,850 to 3,499, with multiple individual declines occurring over the period (2 December, 5 December, 8 December). It was the statistical equivalent of the resurrection of over a thousand men! Over the same period, the total number of reported women and children casualties increased from 10,664 to 13,991. These mass resurrections of Gazan men blew out the women and children death ratio from supposedly 68 per cent to 80 per cent.[4] Figure 4 depicts these ‘December miracles’ in more detail.


Figure 4 The Hamas December Miracles. As Hamas resurrects more men, they make up a smaller proportion of the total casualty statistics, in turn causing the women and children death ratio to skyrocket. Sources: Gazan Government Media Office (see our online ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’ for screen caps of all primary sources, available via the web link in Appendix 1 of this article).

RATE OF DEATH IN GAZA HALVED IN 2024 AS COMPARED TO 2023

Even by the MoH’s own dubious figures, the rate of death in Gaza appears to have slowed markedly in recent months. This correlates with a decline in the reported ratio of women and children killed. The aforementioned 21,978 total dead figure for 2023 implies that, on average, 259 Gazans died every day between 7 October and 31 December. As of 3 March, the comparable 2024 figure declined to 136. So even by Hamas’s own statistics, there has been a decline of almost 50 per cent in the rate of death.[5]

The proportion of women and children casualties recorded in hospitals has also declined by about a third, from 60 per cent in 2023 down to 42 per cent of the deaths recorded in 2024 – a far cry from the BBC’s proclaimed 70 per cent. As mentioned, when considering this 42 per cent figure one should bear in mind that women and children make up 75 per cent of Gaza’s population. And while the hospital registered deaths figures still ultimately come from Hamas, they are at least less obviously absurd than the ‘media sources’ and total death counts.

It is likely that reductions in casualty counts reflect the IDF’s increasing reliance on ground force attacks, rather than airstrikes, as well as reticence on the part of its forces to engage Hamas terrorists that have fled into hospitals and other areas of concentrated civilian populations. These Hamas tactics – embedding among the civilian population to achieve a ‘human shield’ strategy – have resulted in the very real and very tragic deaths of an unknown number of women and children. The same Hamas war criminals who have engineered these tragic deaths are also behind the absurd and fabricated propaganda statistics so widely cited by the western media.

APPENDIX 1

Our online ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’ and several complete Gazan Ministry of Health reports may be found at: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1PnfePh-6lyDafGvIunmNoz2oM9FjaPL4?usp=drive_link 

Excerpt from Ministry of Health report February 29, 2024 with mortality data.

APPENDIX 2

Notes: Direct excerpts from translation of three of seven Ministry of Health reports we have access to, pointing out the 70 per cent rule. That is, 70 per cent of total deaths at any time were women and children.

APPENDIX 3


Distribution of registered death counts from Ministry of Health report 29 February 2024. Even in their own reports, the women and children comprise 58 per cent of the dead which is less than 70 per cent of the dead. Our own analysis finds substantially less.

APPENDIX 4

The 92 per cent figure for 7 October to 31 December is derived from a simple calculation of weighted ratios. The input figures in this calculation all come from a Ministry of Health report dated 31 December 2023. A screen capture of the relevant primary source for the document can be found in our online ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’, linked in Appendix 1 of this article.

Say Dr is all hospital registered deaths and Du is all unregistered ‘media sources’ deaths. Then

Dr + Du = DT
15,349 + 6,629[6] = 21,978

which is the total number of deaths. Say Cr is all women and children in the hospital registered deaths and Cu is all women and children in the unregistered ‘media sources’ deaths. Then

Cr / Dr = rr
[4,602 + 4,659] / 15,349 = 0.603362

which is the ratio of women and children deaths registered in hospitals to total deaths registered in hospitals. Similarly,

Cu / Du = ru
unknown / 6,629 = unknown

is the ratio of women and children deaths in the unregistered ‘media sources’ category to total deaths in the unregistered ‘media sources’ deaths category. Say that

Dr / DT = wr
15,349 / 21,978 = 0.69838

is the weight of registered deaths and

Du / DT = wu
6,629 / 21,978 = 0.30162

is the weight of unregistered deaths. Then

(wr × rr) + (wu × ru) = 70%
(0.69838 × 0.603362) + (0.30162 × ru) = 70%

which is the total ratio of women and children supposedly killed in Gaza. We have all the figures except for ru , the ratio of women and children killed in the unregistered category. Solving, we see:

ru = [70% – (wr × rr)] / wu
[1] For a discussion of this Ministry of Health error, see ‘Claim 3’ of our online ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’, linked to in Appendix 1 of this document. It is not a hugely important error given the scale of the figures involved, but if it is not corrected the numbers simply don’t add up.
[2] Screen captures of relevant tables from various Gazan Ministry of Health reports may be found in our online ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’, linked to in Appendix 1 of this article. The ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’ also contains links to complete Ministry of Health reports.
[3] For details of the calculation of this 42 per cent figure, please see ‘Claim 1’ of our online ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’, which is linked to in Appendix 1 of this article.
[4] It should be noted that the male death count is derived by subtracting the given women and children casualty counts from the total count. The GMO sometimes use the language ‘at least X,XXX women’ and ‘at least Y,YYY children’ in their published casualty figures. Unfortunately for Hamas, the numbers only get more absurd when this complication is factored in. Taken together, these ‘at leasts’ for women and children imply a corresponding ‘at most’ for Gazan men. That is, our stipulated figures for male resurrections actually represent a lower bound, given Hamas’s own numbers! Hamas may have more worked even more miracles than we have calculated here.
[5] A similar figure was reported by Leonhardt in the New York Times on 22 January 2024.
[6] It should be noted that the 31 December 2023 Ministry of Health report lists a value of 6,929, not 6,629, for the unregistered ‘media sources’ deaths Du. However, this figure plus the hospitals dead Dr figure of 15,349 equals 22,278, which is does not equal the MoH’s given total deaths figure of 21,978 (i.e. DT in the above calculations). In all other MoH reports, Du + Dr = DT, so something is clearly in error with the figures in this particular MoH report. The Dr hospital dead figure of 15,349 is internally corroborated by the hospital records of both (women + children + men) and (females + males) (these figures are in turn corroborated by figures from summed totals of individual hospitals in the Gaza Strip). The 21,978 figure is corroborated by a matching GMO report. Hence, it must the 6,929 figure that is in error. Note that you can run all the calculations on this page with the 6,929 figure and end up with a value of 91.41 per cent, scarcely any different than the 92 per cent figure calculated here. However, this Du = 6,929 calculation implies a DT value that contradicts the 21,978 total stated in both the MoH and GMO reports. Please see the ‘Claim 3’ section of our online ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’ (web link in Appendix 1 of this article) for a discussion of this 6,929 / 6,629 issue. The ‘Fathom Article Companion Document’ also provides a screen capture of the relevant primary source, with links to the full MoH report.

Gaza Fatality Data Has Become Completely Unreliable

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
PolicyWatch 3851

Gabriel Epstein

Mar 26, 2024
Also available in العربية

 

Given the discrepancies in official Palestinian counts and their growing reliance on questionable data from media reports, the credibility gaps revealed by a previous Washington Institute study have become yawning chasms.

Heated debates over the Palestinian death toll in the Hamas-Israel war tend to focus on the fact that widely cited fatality numbers make no distinction between combatants and noncombatants. While this is true, it misses a more fundamental problem—the numbers themselves have lost any claim to validity.

In the first month of the war, the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health (MOH) in Gaza relied on its existing collection system, made up primarily of hospitals and morgues, to certify each death. Starting in early November, however, hospitals in northern Gaza began to shut down or evacuate during the Israeli ground invasion, spurring the MOH to introduce a new, undefined methodology for counting fatalities: media reports. This methodology, which the MOH has rarely acknowledged publicly, accounts for the majority of fatalities reported over the past four months, surpassing the traditional collection system.

A comparison of the two methodologies, using MOH reports and claims published by the Hamas-controlled Government Media Office (GMO), yields wildly different and irreconcilable results, indicating that the media reports methodology is dramatically understating fatalities among adult males, the demographic most likely to be combatants. This undercuts the persistent claim that 72 percent of those killed in Gaza are women and children—a problem that has worsened since it was first noted by a Washington Institute report in January.

The result is that MOH statistics do not appear to offer a reliable guide to the actual Palestinian death toll even by the “foggy” standards of normal wartime reporting. Journalists, analysts, and government officials need to be aware that the actual overall death toll may be significantly higher (or, less likely, lower) than what the MOH has reported; the demographic composition of these fatalities is certainly far different than what the MOH claims.

Building a Database

To assess this problem, the author has assembled a comprehensive collection of publicly available Gaza fatality data that includes:

  • Daily updates covering the period October 7 through March 21, obtained from four sources: the Hamas-run MOH in Gaza, the Hamas-run GMO, the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health in Ramallah, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) (which simply relays Gaza MOH/GMO claims, sometimes inaccurately).
  • Compiled data from thirteen Health Sector Emergency Reports published by the Gaza MOH between December 11 and March 18 (these documents can be accessed via the MOH Telegram channel or the Internet Archive).
  • Two comprehensive MOH data releases on October 26 and January 7 (the latter covering up to November 2 for all of Gaza and up to January 5 for the south).
The following analysis is based primarily on the Health Sector Emergency Reports and occasional GMO updates.
Download a condensed version of the author’s database (Excel).
(The full database with sources, methodology, and other information will be published on a future date.)

Limitations of Media Reports

The regular methodology used by the MOH (hereafter the “central collection system”) records deaths at hospitals and morgues, along with deaths reported by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society ambulance service and other unspecified sources (for a more detailed explanation of these practices, see the author’s January study). This methodology is well-understood and has been relatively accurate in the past.

Unlike in previous conflicts, however, neither OCHA nor local and international NGOs are currently conducting real-time fatality verification in Gaza or attempting to distinguish between civilians and combatants. Moreover, only a third of Gaza’s hospitals are even partially functional, and many parts of the Strip have serious access problems, curtailing the use of this methodology to count deaths outside of Rafah and Khan Yunis governorates.

On November 10, the MOH announced that it could no longer report deaths from two northern governorates; a month later, officials acknowledged that they were relying on what they called “reliable media sources” to report deaths in those areas. In reality, they had begun using this methodology as early as November 3, according to the MOH dataset released on January 7.

To be sure, it is not uncommon to use news reports when attempting to count deaths in chaotic battlespaces with access issues and damaged institutions. Yet this practice is notoriously difficult and typically looks backward rather than attempting a real-time count. The reliability of any such effort is greatly dependent on its methodological details, but the MOH has refused to elaborate on how it collects this data—a major problem given that media reports have become the dominant input in the Gaza death toll, accounting for more than 14,000 reported fatalities.

Comparing the Methodologies

Despite known problems with the MOH central collection system (outlined in more detail in the author’s January study), it is the more reliable methodology because it involves identity verification and counting of actual bodies. Media reports, by contrast, are much more difficult to verify, regularly lack details necessary to determine the identities or disposition of those killed, and may double-count or miss many fatalities. The divergence between the two methodologies is perhaps best shown by how differently they have reported demographic details about Gaza deaths.

For instance, the MOH Health Sector Emergency Reports provide separate data on men, women, and children when their deaths are recorded through the central collection system, but only a single aggregated figure for deaths gleaned from media reports. When these reports coincide with the GMO’s periodic reports (which provide demographic breakdowns), one can compare how they treat fatalities among different demographic groups.

This comparison reveals sharp differences—most notably, a sixfold decrease in adult male fatalities recorded from media reports and a fourfold increase in child fatalities. (For reference, children make up roughly 50% of Gaza’s population, and men and women make up a quarter each.) Some of these differences may be explained by the fact that media reports are unlikely to capture combatant deaths accurately due to access issues and fear of retribution for exposing Hamas losses. In most cases, however, the numbers are too far apart to be reconcilable, or too divorced from the realities on the ground to be credible.

For example, according to the media reports methodology, only 1,192 men had been killed in northern and central Gaza as of March 18, despite four and a half months of heavy ground fighting (see the author’s condensed database). Five days later, that number inexplicably decreased to 1,170—a feat that would have required 22 men to somehow come back to life by March 23 in order to reconcile the central collection system data with the overall claim. In contrast, Israeli authorities estimate that 13,000 militants have been killed—a figure that may incorporate many combatant deaths not recorded by either MOH methodology.

Without clarification from the MOH, such findings suggest significant omission or manipulation aimed at understating the number of men killed and overstating the number of children killed. One possibility is that fatalities among militants—most of whom are men—are more likely to go unreported because they occur in tunnels or on battlefields, where most reporters are either unable to access bodies or unwilling to risk Hamas retribution or the dangers of combat zones. Another possibility is active manipulation—that is, using the media reports methodology as a smokescreen for altering the data in support of the claim that 72% of those killed are women and children.

Meanwhile, data from the central collection system indicates a sharp decrease in overall deaths since November and a sustained increase in the proportion of men killed.

In addition to the MOH’s growing reliance on the media reports methodology, these trends may reflect various factors on the ground, such as Israel’s shift from a primarily air-based campaign to ground fighting, the mass evacuation of civilians from the north to Rafah governorate, and the decreasing intensity of fighting in areas where the central collection system is still functioning. Such factors would be expected to reduce overall civilian casualties and therefore increase the proportion of adult men killed, since that is the demographic most likely to serve as combatants.

Caveats and Recommendations

This analysis is solely intended to compare various Hamas fatality claims against each other and raise questions about the resultant discrepancies. It makes no claims about the true death toll in Gaza or the civilian-combatant ratio, nor is it meant to distract from the very real and widespread loss of life in Gaza and the severe humanitarian crisis that its population continues to suffer.

Regarding the overrepresentation of men in the fatality statistics, this point is not intended to imply that all Gazan men are militants. Rather, adult men are the most likely to be militants across any group (though Hamas is known to use children in combat and support roles). Their overrepresentation has also been used to help estimate militant deaths in the past.

Caveats aside, the above findings should prompt analysts, media outlets, and government officials to bear the following points in mind when assessing Gaza fatality statistics:

  • The discrepancies between the methodologies for counting fatalities warrant much more intense scrutiny and should be paired with appropriate caveats if cited. Whether through passive omission, active manipulation, or both, the Gaza Health Ministry’s media reports methodology significantly understates the number of men killed and may overstate the number of children killed.
  • The repeated claim that 72% of the dead are women and children is very likely incorrect. Data from the central collection system indicates that 58% of those killed since the start of the war are women and children; this figure drops to 48% for those killed since November 3. For the 72% claim to be accurate, women and children would have to make up about 90% of deaths recorded from media reports. This proportion is implausible—men comprise a quarter of the population, and these fatalities have largely occurred in areas with fewer civilians and more combatants, most of whom are adult men.
  • Data from both methodologies suggests that the war has decreased in intensity. Fatalities have declined from an average of 348 per day in the first weeks of the war to around 85 per day in March.
  • The existing data is too limited to allow for definitive conclusions about the true death toll or the civilian-combatant ratio. A high proportion of reported deaths come from an unknown methodology that may be misrepresenting the data, while enormous uncertainty persists regarding how many combatant fatalities go uncounted in tunnels and other battlespaces. The exact proportions of men, women, and children killed are even more unclear. The available data does not allow for reliable estimates about the ratio of civilians to combatants killed either, whether independently or by comparison with Israeli estimates.
Gabriel Epstein is a research assistant in The Washington Institute’s Koret Project on Arab-Israel Relations.

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AIJAC calls on Government to join coordinated international efforts against Iran in wake of attacks on Israel

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