U.N. Cuts Gaza Death Toll Figures by Half, Confirming Hamas Is Lying About Casualties

Figures cited by the Biden admin to pressure Israel riddled with errors

(Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)
May 13, 2024

The United Nations cut its Gaza death toll figures by half, confirming that Hamas officials have been lying for months about the total number of casualties in statistics repeatedly cited by the U.N. and American government as proof Israel is harming civilians.

The U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs drastically reduced its child fatality figures, dropping them to 7,796 on May 8 from 14,500 just the day before. It also revised the figures for the number of women killed, lowering them from 9,500 to 4,959.

The U.N. has been citing artificially inflated figures for the last two months and says it relies on information published by the Hamas-controlled Government Media Office in Gaza. Israeli officials and regional experts have cast doubt on these figures since war broke out last year, saying that Hamas is known to artificially inflate casualty figures as part of its global media campaign to paint Israel as the aggressor.

These figures have been used by the U.N. and American government for months to accuse Israel of intentionally targeting civilians, including women and children. But the massive revision indicates Hamas’s figures are riddled with inaccuracies, even as the Biden administration claims they are generally reliable and cites them as evidence that Israel may have committed war crimes during its seven-month war. These inflated figures are also being used by the Biden administration to justify its decision to pause American arms sales to Israel and threaten to withhold more military aid if the Jewish state moves forward with a full-scale incursion into Gaza’s Rafah neighborhood.

"The Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health is the primary source for these numbers, which international organizations generally deem credible, but do not differentiate between Hamas fighters and civilians," the State Department informed Congress on Friday in a report on U.S. arms sales to Israel, a copy of which was reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

The State Department did not respond to Free Beacon questions about whether it continues to consider these statistics reliable or if it will reconsider its reliance on the Gaza Ministry of Health.

David Adesnik, a senior fellow and director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank, said the revisions indicate there has been "a basic failure of due diligence all around."

"At the U.N. At the White House and State Department. In all the newsrooms that have run the updated numbers from Gaza each day," Adesnik said. "The U.N. is acting surprised, suggesting it used bad numbers because it’s hard to find the truth amid the fog of war. But the flaws in the data have been evident for months. It’s just no one bothered to press Hamas-controlled sources to verify their claims."

The statistics, he said, have been used by the Biden administration for months to increase pressure on Israel, citing them "as a principal justification" for their "accusations against and pressure on the Israelis. Now that those flaws are out in the open, the administration needs to repair ties with Jerusalem and focus on eliminating Hamas."

Hamas’s casualty figures have drawn criticism for months, with experts questioning their accuracy and methodology.

"In early April, the Gaza Ministry of Health admitted it had ‘incomplete data’ to document more than 10,000 of the deaths it had previously reported," FDD stated in an analysis. "Subsequently, the ministry indicated that it did not have names for more than 10,000 of the individuals it claimed to be deceased. As of April 1, the ministry also stopped repeating the claim it made since the first weeks of the war that 70 percent of the dead were women and children, even suggesting the media invented this number."

A late March report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, another think tank, concluded that "Gaza fatality data has become completely unreliable."

"The repeated claim that 72% of the dead are women and children is very likely incorrect," the report noted. "Data from the central collection system indicates that 58% of those killed since the start of the war are women and children; this figure drops to 48% for those killed since November 3. For the 72% claim to be accurate, women and children would have to make up about 90% of deaths recorded from media reports."

Such a proportion, however, "is implausible—men comprise a quarter of the population, and these fatalities have largely occurred in areas with fewer civilians and more combatants, most of whom are adult men."

An April dispatch from the Wall Street Journal also cast doubt on the casualty figures, with the outlet reporting that "journalists and [President] Joe Biden lend credence to bogus counts from the Gaza Health Ministry."

Joe Truzman, senior research analyst at FDD’s Long War Journal, said in a published analysis that Hamas "is deeply invested in shaping the narrative that emerges from Gaza, particularly regarding the number of casualties in the war."

"This control of data," Truzman said, "extends beyond the statistics provided by the Hamas-controlled health ministry, as there is also a deliberate effort to downplay the number of terrorists who have been killed by Israel in the war, potentially numbering more than 10,000."