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Skewed Statistics: A Look at the Numbers Behind Gaza’s Civilian Casualties

Have the media, politicians, and the average person all fallen prey to Hamas propaganda? Nearly six months into the war between Israel and the Gaza-based terror organization, one of the key weapons in Hamas’ arsenal…

Reading time: 6 minutes

Have the media, politicians, and the average person all fallen prey to Hamas propaganda?

Nearly six months into the war between Israel and the Gaza-based terror organization, one of the key weapons in Hamas’ arsenal is its cunning use of propaganda to delegitimize Israel’s fight against terrorism and build international pressure on the Jewish state to rein in its military campaign before it can complete its mission of completely uprooting Hamas’ terror infrastructure.

One of the most effective tools is the cynical use of Palestinian casualty figures, especially the claim that the vast majority (usually 70%) of casualties have been women and children.

This claim, which originates in the Hamas-run Ministry of Health, has been uncritically parroted by a variety of Western politicians and media outlets, including Time Magazine, the Associated Press, the BBC, and Washington Post.

However, are these numbers accurate? Have roughly 70% of Palestinians killed during the current war not only been civilians but specifically women and children? Or is Hamas using the façade of a government ministry to spread propaganda aimed at harming Israel’s war effort?

Over the past few weeks, several academics with extensive backgrounds in statistics and Middle Eastern studies have independently published analyses that call into question the validity of Hamas’ numbers.

Palestinian casualty figures in Gaza (which don’t differentiate between combatants and non-combatants) are reported by two Hamas-run bodies, the Ministry of Health and Government Media Office.

When the war started on October 7, local hospitals and morgues were relied upon for Palestinian casualty figures. While these numbers were not above reproach (for example, hospital reports were responsible for the exaggerated casualty figures in the Al-Ahli Hospital explosion), they had an air of reliability since they were based on bodies that had been registered by the medical authorities.

However, beginning on November 3, Gazan authorities also began to use statistics based on “reliable media reports.” These “reports” use unverifiable numbers produced by anonymous public sources and have even included, since early January 2024, numbers drawn from individual Gazans submitting information into a Google form.

As the war has progressed, these “media reports” have overtaken the hospital figures as the primary source of the statistics released by Gazan authorities.

For example, in mid-November 2023, “media reports” amounted to roughly 10% of the casualty statistics released by the Hamas-run Ministry of Health. By mid-March 2024, that number jumped to 62.61%.

These unverifiable “media reports” seem to be the key source of misinformation when it comes to Palestinian civilian casualties.

According to the figures released by Gazan hospitals and morgues, the total number of Gazan casualties has decreased (due, in large part, to Israel moving from aerial attacks to a ground invasion), while the proportion of male adult casualties has increased.

While in the first weeks of the war, the hospitals reported that 33% of casualties were adult males, by March, that number had risen to 70%. For comparison, adult men make up approximately 25% of the total population of Gaza.

With such an increase in adult male casualties in the hospital reports, one would expect that the total number of casualties (which combines hospital reports and “media reports”) would reflect a similar trend.

However, this is not the case.

With the Gazan Ministry of Health steadily reporting since December 2023 that women and children make up roughly 70% of casualties, this would mean that the public “media reports” are consistently reporting women and children as roughly 90% of casualties.

By any statistical standard, this an absurd result.

To add to the absurdity of these “official results” is the fact that, in February 2024, Hamas admitted that approximately 6,000 of its fighters had been killed during the war (considerably less than the estimates released by the IDF), amounting to roughly 20% of total casualties. Thus, according to Hamas’ statistics, only 8 – 10 % of casualties are noncombatant adult males.

As Abraham Wyner, a professor of statistics at the Wharton School of Business, noted in his recent analysis of Gaza casualty numbers, this would mean that either Israel is magically not killing noncombatant men during intense urban conflict or that almost all men in Gaza are affiliated with Hamas. Either way, these statistics require a suspension of disbelief in order to be believed.

A further statistical anomaly that has been observed in all studies of Gazan casualties is the discrepancy between the different casualty counts released by the Hamas government organs.

For example, in a study for Fathom Journal, the authors noted that between December 1 and December 8, 2023, the total number of adult male casualties since the beginning of the war had dropped from 4,850 to 3,499. As the authors put it, this “was the statistical equivalent of the resurrection of over a thousand men!”

Similarly, in his analysis for the Washington Institute, Gabriel Epstein observed an identical trend, with the number of total men killed in northern Gaza decreasing by 22 over five days in March 2024.

While it is possible that these discrepancies are due to misattributions or recording errors, Abraham Wyner noted that in conjunction with this decrease in male casualties, there was an anomalous jump in the number of female casualties. In October 2023, the three days that had close to zero male adult casualties also had the highest number of female casualties for that period.

According to Wyner, this suggests that a “process unconnected or loosely connected to reality was used to report the numbers.” In layman’s terms, these statistical anomalies suggest a manipulation of the numbers by Hamas.

Why do the Gazan casualty figures contain so many anomalies and discrepancies?

It is possible that “media reports” have lower rates of adult male casualties since many of the male fighters are killed away from the civilian population and are not reported on by Hamas. It’s also possible that they are not reported on due to fears of retaliation by Hamas.

However, based on the consistent trend of inconsistency within these statistics, it’s highly likely that these numbers are purposefully being manipulated by Hamas to raise questions about Israel’s military activities and ultimately force Israel to wind down its campaign against the terror group.

In effect, Hamas seems to be manipulating the Gazan casualty count to misrepresent Israel’s conduct and to save itself from the jaws of ultimate defeat.

Due to the nature of urban warfare in general and the cruelty of Hamas’ tactic of embedding themselves among the general population of Gaza in particular, Palestinian civilians have suffered terrible losses during the six months of war.

However, by uncritically parroting these exaggerated casualty figures, the media and world leaders are enabling Hamas’ promotion of a narrative that portrays Israel as a heartless aggressor bent on indiscriminately murdering the most vulnerable sectors of Gazan society instead of as a democratic country fighting a difficult war that was thrust upon it by a sadistic terror group.

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Photo Credit: Atia Mohammed via Flash90

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