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Gaza Health Ministry unable to identify more than 10,000 claimed war casualties

Growing evidence of inconsistencies in Hamas-run ministry data

Palestinians at the site of a destroyed building from an Israeli air strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 5, 2024. (Photo: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

One of the most consistently reported figures during the Gaza War has been the death toll provided by the Gaza Health Ministry (GHM), which is run by the Hamas terrorist organization.

Estimates from the GHM have been cited by the United Nations, NGOs, U.S. President Joe Biden, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and European leaders.

Many have cited these numbers to argue that Israel is not "doing enough" to minimize civilian casualties.

However, according to a recent admission by the Gaza Health Ministry, the figures being provided may not be accurate. A recent report released by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) highlighted some of the issues. Several researchers have highlighted problems with the GHM's alleged number of casualties. 

In an article for Tablet magazine in March, Prof. Abraham Wyner of the University of Penn Wharton's Department of Statistics and Data Science demonstrated that Hamas’ death figures were statistically improbable, if not impossible. 

Later that same month, The Washington Institute’s Gabriel Epstein published his analysis of the ministry’s death toll figures in a piece called, “Gaza Fatality Data Has Become Completely Unreliable.” 

Epstein had already noted inconsistencies and apparent “manipulations” of the statistics in a January report called, “How Hamas Manipulates Gaza Fatality Numbers,” in which he demonstrated that the Hamas-run ministry was not accurately counting “fatalities for fighting-age men.” 

However, at the beginning of April, the Gaza Health Ministry admitted that 11,371 entries on its list of deaths “do not have complete data.” 

Screenshot of Gaza Ministry of Health April 1, 2024, update, highlighting incomplete data.

Toward the end of April, The Wall Street Journal ran an article called “In Gaza, Authorities Lose Count of the Dead,” which attempted to lay the blame for the inaccurate numbers on Israel’s destruction of the Gaza healthcare network. 

The article quotes Medhat Abbas, a spokesman for the Gaza Health Ministry. 

“At the beginning we had systems, we had hospitals,” Abbas said. “The Civil Defense teams were able to get people who were stuck under the rubble. Then the whole system collapsed.” 

The GHM said it originally sourced its casualty figures from hospitals at the start of the war. However, after hospital operations were disrupted by the conflict, it switched to using "reliable media sources" for its data.

As of April 21, the Gaza Health Ministry had listed 10,152 records with “incomplete data.” 

Even the WSJ admitted in its article that the GHM’s numbers do not support the claim that approximately 70% of all casualties are women and children. They cited recent numbers from the GHM indicating that 52% of casualties are women and children. 

Professor Mike Spagat, an economist who has defended the Gaza Health Ministry’s figures in the past, published a report on April 17 in which he identified a “trend toward declining data quality.” 

While Spagat said the figure of more than 33,000 “total number of Gazans killed in the war” may be plausible, he admitted that “it is not a documented fact.”  

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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