update deskIsrael at War

Hamas fakes casualty figures: ‘The numbers are not real’

Abraham Wyner, a professor of statistics and data science at the Wharton School, says the Gaza Health Ministry numbers are likely "grossly inaccurate."

Palestinians bury relatives killed in an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis, Feb. 26, 2024. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinians bury relatives killed in an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis, Feb. 26, 2024. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

The Hamas terrorist organization is disseminating fictitious figures for casualties in the current war in Gaza. That’s the conclusion of a deep dive into the data published in Tablet magazine in a March 7 report titled “How the Gaza Ministry of Health Fakes Casualty Numbers.”

“The numbers are not real. That much is obvious to anyone who understands how naturally occurring numbers work. The casualties are not overwhelmingly women and children, and the majority may be Hamas fighters,” writes Abraham Wyner, a professor of statistics and data science at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and the report’s author.

For those familiar with “Pallywood,” the term coined to describe the Palestinian industry of faking everything from casualties to Israeli attacks, the fact that Hamas produces phony numbers will seem self-evident.

But the casualty numbers matter. They are the foundation on which today’s anti-Israel propaganda is built, justifying demands for a “ceasefire” that leaves Israeli hostages in captivity and accusing the Jewish state of “genocide.”

The Biden administration has recently “lent legitimacy” to the Hamas numbers, the report notes, citing Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s appearance at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Feb. 29 where he said “over 25,000” Palestinian women and children had been killed since Oct. 7, the day of the Hamas massacre.

The Pentagon felt compelled to clarify that Austin “was citing an estimate from the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry.”

Even U.S. President Joe Biden has come to embrace the numbers. He first expressed healthy skepticism, given the fact that the Gaza Health Ministry is essentially Hamas. Biden said on Oct. 25, when the casualty number stood at only about 6,500, “I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed.”

Now, the president repeats the 30,000 figure, which has subsequently passed 31,000. “You cannot have another 30,000 dead as a consequence [of pursuing Hamas],” Biden told MSNBC in an interview on Sunday.

When looking at Wyner’s analysis, those first 30,000 are at the very least “suspicious.”

Wyner started from the premise that if the Hamas numbers are fake, there may be evidence “in the numbers themselves” to show it.

“While there is not much data available, there is a little, and it is enough: From Oct. 26 until Nov. 10, 2023, the Gaza Health Ministry released daily casualty figures that include both a total number and a specific number of women and children,” he writes.

He first looked at the total number of deaths. What he found was that the daily reported casualty rate increases with “metronomical linearity”—a “regularity… [that] …is almost surely not real.”

This unnatural, clockwork-like increase can best be seen in the first graph included with the report. It’s built from data aggregated by Wyner and provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) based on Gaza Ministry of Health figures.

“One would expect quite a bit of variation day to day. In fact, the daily reported casualty count over this period averages 270 plus or minus about 15%. This is strikingly little variation. There should be days with twice the average or more and others with half or less,” Wyner observes.

“Perhaps what is happening is the Gaza ministry is releasing fake daily numbers that vary too little because they do not have a clear understanding of the behavior of naturally occurring numbers,” he writes.

Secondly, Wyner notes that child casualties should track with women casualties. The reason has to do with the daily variation in strikes on residential buildings and tunnels.

“Consequently, on the days with many women casualties there should be large numbers of children casualties, and on the days when just a few women are reported to have been killed, just a few children should be reported,” he writes.

But the numbers don’t show that correlation, a “second circumstantial piece of evidence suggesting the numbers are not real.”

He also says that the daily number of women casualties should be “highly correlated” with the number of male casualties, because “of the nature of battle.

“The ebbs and flows of the bombings and attacks by Israel should cause the daily count to move together. But that is not what the data show. Not only is there not a positive correlation, there is a strong negative correlation, which makes no sense at all and establishes the third piece of evidence that the numbers are not real,” he notes.

Wyner reports other anomalies, such as contradictory numbers on Oct. 29 and Oct. 28 that suggest 26 men came back to life.

The Gaza Health Ministry also claims that about 70% of the casualties are women or children, a total “far higher than the numbers reported in earlier conflicts with Israel,” he says.

Another warning sign, which Wyner says has been noted elsewhere, is that if 70% of the casualties are women and children, and 25% of the population are adult males, then Israel isn’t doing a very good job eliminating Hamas fighters.

“This by itself strongly suggests that the numbers are at a minimum grossly inaccurate and quite probably outright faked,” he said noting that on Feb. 15, Hamas admitted losing 6,000 of its fighters, “which represents more than 20% of the total number of casualties reported.”

“Hamas is reporting not only that 70% of casualties are women and children but also that 20% are fighters. This is not possible unless Israel is somehow not killing noncombatant men, or else Hamas is claiming that almost all the men in Gaza are Hamas fighters.

“Taken together, what does this all imply? While the evidence is not dispositive, it is highly suggestive that a process unconnected or loosely connected to reality was used to report the numbers,” he says.

“Most likely, the Hamas ministry settled on a daily total arbitrarily. We know this because the daily totals increase too consistently to be real. Then they assigned about 70% of the total to be women and children, splitting that amount randomly from day to day. Then they in-filled the number of men as set by the predetermined total. This explains all the data observed,” Wyner hypothesizes, in attempting to make sense of the numbers.

Wyner says the truth may never be known but that the total casualty count of civilians is likely “extremely overstated.”

Noting that Israel puts the number of terrorists killed in Gaza at 12,000 [with another approximately 1,000 killed inside Israel on and immediately after Oct. 7], Wyner concludes, “If that number proves to be even reasonably accurate, then the ratio of noncombatant casualties to combatants is remarkably low: at most 1.4 to 1 and perhaps as low as 1 to 1.

“By historical standards of urban warfare, where combatants are embedded above and below into civilian population centers, this is a remarkable and successful effort to prevent unnecessary loss of life while fighting an implacable enemy that protects itself with civilians,” he writes.

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