Israeli deaths since 7 October are accurately recorded – other than those who have likely died while held captive by Hamas and other related terrorist groups.

However, the same cannot be said in relation to Hamas/Palestinian deaths.

The reported Palestinian toll in the Hamas-Israel war is distorted by the fact that fatality numbers make no distinction between combatants and non-combatants.

It also misses a more fundamental problem – the numbers themselves have lost all 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.

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% of those killed in Gaza are women and children – a problem that has worsened since it was first noted by a Washington Institute report earlier this year.

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.

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.

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 last year, 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.

Despite known problems with the MOH central collection system, 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, as shown below.

Anyone with even a moderate level of commonsense can see that the ‘media reports’ numbers are completely false. There have NEVER been more children than adults killed in any war throughout human history.

Children are always better able to survive any conflict because they are protected by adults – it’s instinctive amongst all animal species, and humans are no different.

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.

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, as indicated below.

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.

It will be interesting to see if this is reflected in future media reports.

But don’t count on that from left-wing media outlets such as the ABC, SBS, Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne Age, and the Guardian who appear to be anti-Israel.

What needs to be reinforced at every opportunity is the fact that all deaths and injuries are the sole responsibility of Hamas together with those Palestinians who joined in the barbaric carnage that took place on and after 7 October.

Hamas can end this war TODAY! They ‘just’ need to surrender, release the hostages and present their leaders to the International Criminal Court for trial on charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Hopefully, even our increasingly demented Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, can understand that this is the only solution if she wants an immediate permanent ceasefire.

Wong and Albanese can forget the two-state solution – Hamas and the majority of Palestinians demand the eradication of Israel…. from the river to the sea!

Thanks to Gabriel Epstein, a research assistant in The Washington Institute’s Koret Project on Arab-Israel Relations for the factual information included in this article.

His full report can be accessed via https://www.washingtoninstitute.org

Thanks also to Johannes Leak for his very appropriate cartoon.

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