Why the U.N.’s Gaza Casualty Figures Were So Off

The U.N. offered no explanation for the sudden change. On May 6, the body's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) released an infographic showing that more than 9,500 women and 14,500 children had been killed in Gaza. Two days later, OCHA's updated graphic cut those numbers nearly in half, showing that 4,959 women and 7,797 children had actually lost their lives — a combined reduction of more than 11,000. When a reporter pressed U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq to explain the revision, all he received was a standard disclaimer that "in the fog of war, it's difficult to come up with numbers."

True enough, yet for months the U.N. put its trust in numbers generated by Hamas-controlled sources, and the Biden administration put its trust in the U.N. These numbers have served as the basis for relentless criticism of Israel, with Joe Biden accusing it of "indiscriminate bombing" and deciding, ultimately, to withhold shipments of weapons. In his State of the Union address in March, Biden told Congress that 30,000 Palestinians had died in the war, without giving any indication that this number came from a Hamas-run ministry. If 11,000 fewer women and children than previously reported have died, it becomes difficult to portray the Israeli armed forces as an out-of-control war machine. Instead, the president should return to his policy of marching in lockstep with the Israelis toward the common goal of eradicating Hamas.

To understand the U.N.'s sudden revision of the casualty data, one has to know there are actually two separate Gaza institutions that generate and distribute these numbers. Both are controlled by Hamas, but the information they release is often contradictory. The first institution is the Gaza Ministry of Health, which runs the hospitals and receives their information about casualties. The second is the Government Media Office (GMO), which shares information from the Ministry of Health but makes explained additions. As OCHA itself admitted with regard to GMO, "their methodology is unknown." Nevertheless, OCHA has relied on GMO data since the start of the war — on May 6, OCHA cited GMO as its source for the claim that 9,500 women and 14,500 children had died in Gaza.

On May 8, OCHA switched without notice to employing data from the Health Ministry that showed that 4,959 women and 7,797 children had been identified among the dead. Admittedly, the change is difficult to notice, since the only indication is a note in tiny print beneath OCHA's May 8 infographic which says, "Source: MoH Gaza." The real question is why OCHA finally lost confidence in the GMO's numbers and why it made the change on May 8, even though the flaws in those numbers have been apparent for months.

At the first press briefing after the May 8 revision, Haq, the U.N. spokesman, was clearly unprepared to answer questions about the change. But he came prepared to the next briefing on May 13. Haq confirmed that OCHA relies on Health Ministry data, but never acknowledged that it had relied on GMO until just a week earlier. This enabled him to sidestep the question of why OCHA no longer considered the GMO numbers credible. Instead, Haq asserted there had been revision because "the Ministry of Health in Gaza has updated the breakdown of fatalities," meaning the number of men, women, children, etc.

Were we talking about a minor revision, this might suffice. But how could Gaza authorities have mistakenly added more than 4,500 women and 6,500 children to their casualty count? To answer that, one has to rewind the clock to the early days of the war when both the Health Ministry and the GMO began to claim that 70 percent of the dead in Gaza were women and children. It was an assertion that seemed to settle the question of whether Israeli forces were waging war indiscriminately.

The problem is that the data coming out of the hospitals could not sustain the claim. There were simply too many adult-male bodies to keep the percentage of women and children at or above 70. The GMO response to the problem was simply to keep raising the number of women and children in its toll despite the fact that this left no room for the men. Gabriel Epstein, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, published a paper in January illustrating the problem. On December 11, for example, the GMO said that there were 6,200 women and 8,000 children among the 18,396 dead. Thus, the remaining 4,196 must have been men. Yet the same day, the Health Ministry reported that hospitals had registered the bodies of 5,577 men. Unless the hospitals had been wrong about the sex of more than 1,300 corpses, the GMO's numbers were implausible. Epstein had sharp words for OCHA, upbraiding it for its reliance on the GMO's wild claims. Whether the team at OCHA reviewed Epstein's findings is unknown, but the errors were so glaring that there is no excuse for OCHA's decision to keep relying on GMO data.

Broadly speaking, the U.N. has taken a step forward with its decision to employ Health Ministry data, even if it has never explained why it relied on the GMO until now. Yet the Health Ministry remains firmly under the control of Hamas and has credibility issues of its own. Last October, after a nighttime blast at al-Ahli Hospital in northern Gaza, the ministry insisted an Israeli airstrike had resulted in the deaths of 500 civilians. Yet once the sun rose the next morning, the limited size and depth of the crater on hospital grounds made clear that an errant Palestinian rocket had caused the explosion. U.S. intelligence estimated an actual death toll of 100–300. The ministry refused to change its story.

Despite its far lower estimates of female and child fatalities, the Health Ministry still insists that the overall death toll is greater than 35,000 because there are more than 10,000 unidentified individuals among the dead. The U.N. is borrowing that story to justify its continued use of the 35,000 figure, but the number may not hold up, because it is based on what the ministry calls "reliable media sources," not hospital reports. If the U.N., the Biden administration, and the press corps can summon the skepticism necessary to do a full vetting of the numbers put out by Hamas-controlled sources, many more revisions may be necessary.

hero news image

Why the U.N.’s Gaza Casualty Figures Were So Off

The U.N. nearly halved its estimate of women and children killed in Gaza after relying on figures from ... READ MORE


national review

Follow Us & Share

19 West 44th Street, Suite 1701,
New York, NY, 10036, USA
Your Preferences | Unsubscribe | Privacy
View this e-mail in your browser.


Posts les plus consultés de ce blog

Kid draws a hilarious family portrait, featuring his mother on her period

This Is What Fish Oil Supplements Actually Do

Chris Froome sends out strong message to his rivals as he storms back to win Criterium du Dauphine for the second time