On November 13, 2023, The Washington Post published an in-depth report on the toll that Israel’s war against Hamas has taken on the people of Gaza.
Of particular focus were the child casualties in Gaza. Basing itself on the numbers published by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health, the report stated that, at the time of publication, more than 4,000 children had been killed in Gaza.
In comparing the number of children killed in Gaza to the number of children killed in other major world conflicts, The Washington Post created the impression that the damage wrought by Israel in its fight against Hamas is unique in the annals of modern warfare.
Evan Hill, one of The Washington Post’s investigative journalists, even tweeted that this comparison of casualties suggests “The Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza might be killing children at a rate unprecedented in 21st-century conflict.”
The Israeli bombing campaign in Gaza might be killing children at a rate unprecedented in 21st-century conflict, this data suggests.
— Evan Hill (@evanhill) November 14, 2023
However, further investigation by freelance journalist Omer Biran found The Washington Post’s findings to be faulty, as it dramatically understated the total number of children killed in these other conflicts.
Biran found that child casualty statistics from Iraq and Afghanistan failed to give the complete picture as they did not include the numbers from the first years of those wars.
For the war in Afghanistan (which began in 2001), The Washington Post reportedly relied on UN statistics that began in 2009 (a gap of 8 years). Similarly, for the war in Iraq (which began in 2003), The Post relied on statistics from when UNICEF began tracking these casualties in 2008 (a gap of 5 years).
Biran also observed that The Washington Post relied on heavily conservative numbers that have been verified by international bodies. However, even these organizations agree that the numbers are likely much higher than those that have been independently verified.
For example, The Washington Post stated that, based on the UN, the total number of children killed during the Syrian Civil War was 12,000.
In 2021, UNICEF’s representative in Syria stated that the “actual numbers are likely to be much higher” while, in 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Office estimated that the total number of children killed was at least 27, 126.
Similarly, the number of children killed in Yemen during its civil war is actually much higher than The Washington Post’s estimate of 4,000 children.
According to a November 2021 UN report, the death toll from the civil war would reach 377,000 casualties, with over 70% of these casualties being under the age of five. It should be noted that this estimate includes both direct and indirect casualties. The Gaza Ministry of Health also does not differentiate between direct and indirect casualties.
Aside from the incongruence of the years given by The Washington Post for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the numbers of child casualties in these wars are also thought to be much higher than those given in this piece.
While The Washington Post gave the number of children killed in Afghanistan to be 8,000, it is estimated that over 70,000 Afghani and Pakistani civilians were directly killed during this war. Statistically, the number would then be most likely much higher than 8,000.
In Iraq, UNICEF agrees that the number of children killed during that conflict is much higher than the verified number of 3,119, which was used by The Washington Post.
In a joint statement, the 27-member bloc condemned Hamas for the use of hospitals and civilians as “human shields.”
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) November 13, 2023
Whether in Gaza, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, or Afghanistan, the death of innocent children during war is tragic.
However, The Washington Post’s attempt to contextualize the number of children killed in Gaza by using incomplete statistics about other 21st-century wars does nothing other than help to prop up a false and toxic narrative about Israel’s conduct in its fight against the Hamas terror organization.
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