Hamas confesses that one-third of the death count is missing data

Six months into the war, the number of Palestinian casualties has still not been independently verified.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

Raising new questions about the credibility of Palestinian death toll figures being reported from Gaza, the Strip’s Hamas-run Health Ministry announced that it had incomplete data on one-third of the casualties.

The announcement, made on the Health Ministry’s Telegram channel on Saturday, said that 11,371 of the 33,091 deaths had “incomplete data” — namely the victim’s full name, identity number, date of birth, or date of death.

The ministry made a similar, largely-overlooked announcement on April 3, which said the ministry’s records on 12,263 were incomplete. That announcement did define the missing data.

Israelis have questioned the numbers, pointing out that the Gaza Health Ministry is run by Hamas, which in previous conflicts blurred distinctions between civilian and combatant casualties, or attributing natural deaths to Israeli operations.

Others have raised issues with statistical anomalies, most notably Hamas’s claim that 70% of the victims are women and children is statistically impossible.

With the war against Hamas now in its sixth month, the number of Palestinian casualties has not been independently verified.

The Press Service of Israel discussed Hamas’s numbers and announcement with analysts, who raised doubts about the credibility of Hamas’s announcement and stressed that the true number of Palestinians killed since October 7 may never be known.

‘They Don’t Care About Being Accurate’

Read  WATCH: Hamas terrorists fire at Gazans from on top of stolen aid trucks

Dr. Ron Schleifer, who teaches communications at Ariel University, explained to TPS-IL that Hamas inflating the casualty count needs to be seen in the context of psychological warfare.

“The idea in psychological warfare is to get the enemy always on the worrying side, to shake its confidence and power. The Palestinians have lied all throughout the conflict with Israel. They lie about the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank, they lie about the Palestinians living in Gaza, they lie as a system,” he said.

“If you don’t want to call them liars, they’re inconsistent and dubious. But the idea is the same. You inflate your numbers depending on what image you want. You can lie to show weakness when weakness is the winning argument. That’s when they inflate the numbers of people killed. The inflated death toll is an element of psychological warfare.”

Explaining the timing of Hamas’s announcement, Dr. Adi Schwartz told TPS-IL, “In the last week or two, there have been serious allegations against Hamas’s numbers. They’re on the defensive right now. That’s how I understand it. They didn’t have a choice.”

Schwartz is a research fellow at the Misgav Institute in Jerusalem and a fellow at the Ben-Gurion Institute at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

“They want to be seen as a credible source addressing the concerns of the international media. It’s their way of staying on top of the narrative, how to spin it,” he explained. “They don’t care about being accurate. This second look at the numbers, they’re not doing it because they’re concerned to be accurate. That’s not the story. The story is to show they’re playing the game.”

Read  Israel won't end Gaza war in exchange for hostage deal, Netanyahu tells Blinken

According to Schleifer, “It’s an excuse to say, ‘Don’t be picky.’ It says, ‘We don’t have the exact data because we are small and weak and being ferociously attacked and we don’t have the full data at the moment.’”

‘Memory is Very Short’

Both Schleifer and Schwartz stressed that the media should treat Hamas figures with more skepticism.

Schwartz recalled an explosion at the Al Alhi Hospital in October, when Hamas claimed hundreds of Palestinians were killed in an Israeli airstrike.

Intercepted Hamas communications revealed the explosion was caused by a misfired Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket.

Hamas initially claimed that 500 Palestinians were killed, then later put the number at 471. US intelligence assessments estimated 100-300 people were killed, but the true number was never confirmed.

“Hamas immediately said that hundreds of people were killed, but nobody could’ve counted the bodies that fast,” said Schwartz.

“Even after that, the international media continues to quote the Health Ministry of Hamas. Call it what you want, it’s still Hamas. It shows we still have a problem with the international media.”

Israel’s problem, said Schwartz, is that officials aren’t in a position to offer numbers countering Hamas.

“Israel doesn’t give a ‘counter-number’ because it’s impossible to know. Israel has to maintain its credibility, but Hamas does not,” he said.

Read  Who funds Hamas? You do, thanks to Old Joe

A Palestinian doctor who works for the Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry told TPS-IL, “It’s possible that in the end, in the face of what they claim and what they know for sure, there will be a gap [in the numbers]. This happened in all the wars in Gaza.”

Schleifer and Schwartz don’t believe the true casualty numbers will ever be known.

“We’ll never find out. The Palestinians are interested in inflating the number of people living in Gaza and they don’t have a reliable database. Many people have fled Gaza in the last decade but Hamas doesn’t want to publicize that. So they inflate the number of people in Gaza just as the Palestinian Authority inflates the number of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria,” Schleifer said.

Said Schwartz, “The memory is very short and the news cycle goes on. So even if you come up with the numbers in a year or two, I don’t think anyone will be interested anymore.”

At least 1,200 people were killed and 240 Israelis and foreigners were taken hostage in Hamas’s attacks on Israeli communities near the Gaza border on October 7. Of the remaining 134 hostages, Israel recently declared 31 of them dead.