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On 25 October, US President Joe Biden stated he had "no confidence" in the death totals reported by the Gaza Health Ministry.[62][63] In response, Human Rights Watch stated that after three decades working in Gaza and conducting its own investigation, it considers Gaza Health Ministry's totals to be reliable.[63] Matthew Miller made a similar claim to Biden, despite the fact that the US Department of State cites the Gaza Health Ministry's death tolls in its own internal reports.[64] On 26 October, the Gaza Health Ministry responded by releasing a 212-page document of 6,747 individual names and ID numbers, as well as 281 unidentified fatalities.[65] The US State Department Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs told a Congressional hearing on 9 November that the death toll was "very high, frankly, and it could be that they're even higher than are being cited."[66]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casualties_of_the_2023_Israel%E2%80%93Hamas_war

Are there more reliable sources for the death toll in the Israel–Hamas war than the Gaza Health Ministry? I am wondering if there are more reliable sources from non-profit organizations like the Red Cross that uses official sources and estimate or objectively attribute the death toll (not including natural death for example), because I am thinking the Gaza Health Ministry may not be 100% objective in its methodologies.

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    Related: politics.stackexchange.com/q/82572/20220
    – F1Krazy
    Dec 3, 2023 at 23:34
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    I was pretty sure the ICRC doesn't do mortality figures/statistics, but apparently they sometimes do icrc.org/en/document/… Dec 4, 2023 at 0:29
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    @user57467 - Well, even if one only cares about establishing that the Israeli government has no compunctions about killing any number of people in Gaza, having some confidence in the GHM numbers is important for that. If one believes that the numbers are more or less correct, as I do, one reaches a different conclusion that if one believes that the real death toll is, say, 50. If, on the other hand, one also cares about the extent of the suffering in the Gaza Strip, knowing how many people have died might be extremely important.
    – Obie 2.0
    Dec 4, 2023 at 1:53
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    Judging by the past experiences, there will be post-war investigations - the number will be revised down, so that Hamas, Israel and Red cross or UN estimations agree (but not much down - don't expect a miracle). The main dispute is usually about how many of those were combatants. Dec 4, 2023 at 6:53
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    Keep in mind that the al-Ahli hospital explosion was listed at 471 by GHM, while some sources pit it at 50-100. That's a 500% - 1000% inflation, and it's still part of their total figure, which incidentally is often attributed totally to IDF. So for sure there's much fishiness. But GHM is the only info source so how can anyone else ever produce a figure more reliable?
    – YouDontSay
    Dec 4, 2023 at 14:15

2 Answers 2

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Judging by the past experiences, there will be post-war investigations - the number will be somewhat revised down, so that Hamas, Israel and Red cross or UN estimations agree (Hamas definitely does some double counting to add to the international pressure on Israel, but the order-of-the-magnitude is probably correct). The main dispute is usually about how many of those were combatants.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs clearly states that any data might be available only after the end of the hostilities:

Casualties in the context of the ongoing hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel, which started on 7 October 2023, will only be added to this page once these incidents have been independently verified. Until then, reported figures on those are included in our Flash Updates and Snapshots. By contrast, data on casualties in the West Bank and Israel in other contexts is updated regularly beyond 7 October 2023.

The cited Snapshot reports the Palestinian casualties with reference to [Hamas] Ministry of Health, Government Media Office.

The situation is by no means unique:

  • the presence and security of any independent bodies is dependent on the permission and protection of the military force controlling an area. This makes independent work impossible.
  • collection of information about casualties requires systematic observation, systematization of information, centralized records processing, cross-checking of records, etc. In a chaotic situation this may well be impossible - that is, Hamas might simply have no numbers available even for their internal purposes.

This situation is not unique to this conflict. Indeed, the US equally had difficulties counting the enemy and civilian casualties in Iraq: A NATION AT WAR: THE CASUALTIES; U.S. Military Has No Count Of Iraqi Dead In Fighting:

But how many Iraqi soldiers have died?

It could be scores, hundreds, even thousands. No one outside Iraq -- and probably no one there, either -- knows. As in the Persian Gulf war in 1991 and in Afghanistan, the American military is not counting.

American officials say numbering the enemy dead in the midst of battle is dangerous and ultimately fruitless. They say it is not a statistic that interests them. They speak in lifeless terms of ''degrading'' or ''attriting'' enemy military formations, so they can assess the strength of the force opposing them. They count destroyed tanks and artillery pieces and missile launchers. They count captured weapons. They do not count people, civilian or military.

''You know, we don't do body counts,'' Gen. Tommy R. Franks said a year ago in response to reports that American bombing killed 1,000 Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters in the Afghanistan campaign of 2001-02.

Remarks:
Indeed, in the past there have been instances in this conflict when the casualties were greatly exaggerated, notably the Battle of Jenin (2002):

On April 7, senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat suggested to CNN that some 500 Palestinians had been killed in the camp. Five days later, when the fighting stopped, PA Secretary Ahmed Abdel Rahman told UPI that the number was in the thousands. Stories of hundreds of civilians being killed in their homes as they were demolished spread throughout international media. Subsequent investigations found no evidence to substantiate claims of a massacre, and official totals from Palestinian and Israeli sources confirmed between 52 and 54 Palestinians, including civilians, and 23 IDF soldiers as having been killed in the fighting.

Another famous case of exaggerated claims was Bernie Sanders' gaffe about 10,000 Palestinians killed in 2014 Gaza war, made during the 2016 election campaign:

“Anybody help me out here, because I don’t remember the figures, but my recollection is over 10,000 innocent people were killed in Gaza. Does that sound right?” he said first.

Told that the number was “probably high,” Sanders responded: “I don’t have it in my number… but I think it’s over 10,000. My understanding is that a whole lot of apartment houses were leveled,” he went on. “Hospitals, I think, were bombed. So yeah, I do believe and I don’t think I’m alone in believing that Israel’s force was more indiscriminate than it should have been.”

[...]

According to Palestinian figures cited by the UN Human Rights Council, 1,462 civilians were killed out of a total of the 2,251 Gaza fatalities during the 51-day conflict. Israel, for its part, has said that up to half of those killed on the Palestinian side were combatants, and has blamed the civilian death toll on Hamas for deliberating placing rocket launches, tunnels and other military installations among civilians. Seventy-three people were killed on the Israeli side of the conflict.

In the follow-up it transpired that Sanders generally had poor grasp of the facts related to Israel, as he didn't know who was Michael Oren (the Israeli Ambassador to the US at the time.)

Related: Why are statements from the "Gaza Health Ministry" taken without a grain of salt?

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Healthy scepticism is good. But is there really a reason to start completely distrusting the Gaza Health Ministry figures, in the first place? Not really.

As an Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, report highlights:

At the same time, in response to U.S. President Joe Biden's assertion that he did not trust that ministry's reports about the number of those killed, on October 27 the ministry took the unusual step of presenting a detailed list of the names of those killed, along with their age, gender and ID numbers. That report has not been refuted to date. Furthermore, in the past, various international bodies commented favorably on the Hamas ministry's level of accuracy, and even Dr. Michael Milshtein, formerly the head of the department of Palestinian affairs in Israeli Military Intelligence, noted, in connection with another report, that "Hamas is an organization of numbers and accuracy." (Ref. 1)

The military operation to destroy Hamas is a joint intelligence operation between the US and Israel (Ref. 2). So President Biden too is facing a lot of domestic and international backlash for Israel's poor military strategy and the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. On the domestic front, there has been surge in pro-Palestinian protests in the US that have outgrown pro-Israel protests in both numbers and participants:

... in the period between October 7 and November 28, the CCC recorded 433 rallies in support of Israel and 1,869 in support of Palestine ... “We’re fairly confident at this point that this year’s pro-Palestine wave is the largest and broadest pro-Palestine mobilization in U.S. history,” ... (Ref. 3)

On the international front, repeatedly vetoing UN resolutions that seek to help the Palestinians has resulted in some loss of respect, for the current US administration, among the international community:

“President Biden’s support for Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza is losing him respect all over the world. The US is increasingly isolated, with allies like Australia, Canada, India, Japan and Poland switching their votes in the UN General Assembly to support an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” she said. (Ref. 4)

That is why the US administration is currently on the defensive, and trying to create doubts on the credibility of the death figures from the Gaza Health ministry.

However, the BBC report 'How the dead are counted in Gaza' and the AP report 'What is Gaza’s Ministry of Health and how does it calculate the war’s death toll?' analysed this and conclude that apart from minor discrepancies, the figures from the Gaza Health ministry have been historically reliable, as attested by other international agencies:

The BBC also spoke to the UN and Human Rights Watch - both of which said they had no reason to disbelieve the figures released by the health ministry in Gaza. The UN relies on the health ministry as a source for casualty figures in the area ... Others who have scrutinised the health ministry's figures include economics professor Michael Spagat, from Royal Holloway, University of London - who chairs the charity Every Casualty Counts which studies death tolls in wars ... Prof Spagat has also looked back at previous conflicts, and found that health ministry figures in Gaza have held up under past scrutiny. (Ref. 5)

The AP report says:

In previous wars, the ministry’s counts have held up to U.N. scrutiny, independent investigations and even Israel’s tallies ... Throughout four wars and numerous bloody skirmishes between Israel and Hamas, U.N. agencies have cited the Health Ministry’s death tolls in regular reports. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Palestinian Red Crescent also use the numbers. In the aftermath of war, the U.N. humanitarian office has published final death tolls based on its own research into medical records. In all cases the U.N.'s counts have largely been consistent with the Gaza Health Ministry’s, with small discrepancies. (Ref. 6)

The major criticism that Palestinian death figures cannot be trusted because they come from "Hamas controlled Health ministry" is also erroneous and mostly propaganda. AP highlights that the Gaza health ministry is not controlled by Hamas and is actually run by the Palestinian Authority in West Bank:

The Palestinian Authority, which controlled Gaza before Hamas overran the area in 2007, retains power over health and education services in Gaza ... The ministry is a mix of recent Hamas hires and older civil servants affiliated with the secular nationalist Fatah party, officials say ... Health Minister Mai al-Kaila in Ramallah oversees the parallel ministries, which receive the same data from hospitals. Her deputy is based in Gaza. The Ramallah ministry said it trusts casualty figures from partners in Gaza, and it takes longer to publish figures because it tries to confirm numbers with its own Gaza staff. (Ref. 6)

One major criticism about the data in both reports is that the data doesn't separate combatants and civilians. However, common sense suggests that when 70% of those killed are women and children (Ref. 7), a large majority of them are likely civilians than combatant. The Haaretz analysis also suggests Israel's military has allowed more civilians to be killed than in any past conflict. (Ref. 1)).

References:

  1. The Israeli Army Has Dropped the Restraint in Gaza, and the Data Shows Unprecedented Killing

  2. U.S. Drones Are Flying Over Gaza to Aid in Hostage Recovery, Officials Say

  3. Data on pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protests

  4. Biden support for Israeli actions in Gaza ‘losing him respect worldwide’, says Mary Robinson

  5. How the dead are counted in Gaza

  6. What is Gaza’s Ministry of Health and how does it calculate the war’s death toll?

  7. Women, children make up almost 70% of fatalities in Gaza Strip — UN

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    A human unit, that carries a gun and attacks an enemy combatant - is combatant. Palestinians shoot themselves in the foot when post tik-tok rant movies with children carry guns and swear to kill Jews. No propaganda. What could possibly go wrong?
    – dEmigOd
    Jan 4 at 13:42
  • @dEmigOd: yeah, their women are fake too, in more than one way. MEGA inflated numbers. Mar 11 at 15:24
  • @Dolphin613Motorboat, Great Success! So you say, that a combatant was hiding in the hospital, and other combatants, ALSO in civilian clothes come and arrest him. Continue to shoot in the foot.
    – dEmigOd
    Mar 12 at 6:26
  • @dEmigOd: yeah, no such thing as 'innocent civilians' in the whole Middle East. Exception could be made for the under 4 y.o. or something, see Russian and Chinese re-education programs. Mar 12 at 6:36

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