OpinionIsrael at War

Hamas’s bogus death counts exposed

Our message must be “Hamas, stop killing your own people.”

Troops from the IDF's 98th Division operating in Jabalia, the northern Gaza Strip, May 2024. Credit: IDF.
Troops from the IDF's 98th Division operating in Jabalia, the northern Gaza Strip, May 2024. Credit: IDF.
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

When Israel’s daring military operation successfully freed four kidnap victims from Gaza last week, The Washington Post ran the headline: “At least 274 Palestinians killed during Israeli raid to rescue 4 hostages.”

In other words, the Post’s message was: Israel killed hundreds of Palestinians in order to save just four kidnap victims—or, disproportionate force led to the deaths of many innocent civilians.

What the Post didn’t tell us was that the death count was not verified, since it came from Hamas’s Gaza Health Ministry, which consistently lies. The Post also didn’t tell us how many dozens of the dead were Hamas terrorists or how many were “civilians” holding or guarding the hostages in their private apartments. Or how many more were civilians killed by Palestinian fighters firing machine guns to stop Israeli soldiers from extracting the hostages from the densely populated neighborhood where they’d been held.

No specifics, just dead bodies—not verified by anyone.

Ironically, this media use of fake death tolls came just days after the Associated Press (AP) revealed Hamas’s “daily death tolls … are provided without supporting data.” This means thousands of daily news stories in major media reporting a rising death count of Palestinians in Gaza are all unsubstantiated.

Media like CNN, NPR and the AP itself have uncritically regurgitated the claim that 72% of Gaza war dead were women and children. Yet now AP says, “The underlying data clearly showed the percentage [72%] was well below that.”

While AP’s analysis is only one of many that have exposed the patent unreliability of Hamas’s fake death toll accounts, it’s certainly the one with the highest visibility. Will the media ignore this one, as they have all the others, and continue to promote Hamas’s lies as truth? No major news outlet—including The New York Times, CNN or NPR—has yet covered the AP report.

While Hamas are clearly the war criminals here—for their persistent strategy of stationing fighters among their civilian population—American news media are also culpable. Major media, such as USA Today and The New York Times have obsessively focused on civilian deaths in Gaza, blaming Israel for them rather than the terrorists who put those people directly in danger.

Two weeks ago, for example, NPR’s Jerusalem correspondent Daniel Estrin—known for his past perversions of truthful reporting—covered the Israel Defense Forces operation in the Nuseirat “refugee camp” that precisely targeted and killed nine of an estimated 20 Hamas leaders who set up headquarters in a U.N. school surrounded by Gazan refugee encampments.

Unsurprisingly, a number of civilians were also reported to have been killed. NPR laid the blame for the civilian deaths on the IDF’s use of American precision bombs—completely ignoring the story’s main points. Estrin made no mention of Hamas’s war criminality in setting up a terrorist hideout in a civilian center or Hamas’s primary responsibility for Gazan deaths in general for using human shields. Nor was there any mention of the fact that the death count could not be verified.

Major media virtually never acknowledge that every war creates hundreds, thousands, often tens of thousands of tragic deaths—even more so when enemies hide in schools, hospitals and humanitarian shelters, as Hamas routinely does.

It’s time the media—and pro-Israel advocates—adopt a new strategy for highlighting the cause of Gaza’s civilian deaths. While civilian deaths are regrettable—but inevitable in any war—Hamas multiplies the Gazan death count by its purposeful strategy of placing fighters in densely populated civilian centers.

The honest message, the true message, the humanitarian message must be: “Hamas: Stop killing your own people.” Israel is not violating international law when it targets enemy fighters hiding among civilians—though Israel often calls off strikes likely to kill civilians. But when Palestinians die during attacks on Hamas, Hamas is fully to blame. 

AP’s report proves Hamas has been lying since day one. While Hamas’s Gaza Ministry of Health reported as recently as March that 72% of war deaths were women and children, AP’s new report found that this ratio has never been higher than 64.4% and as of April 30 had declined to just 38.1%.

AP’s report was based on the total number of fully identified victims—22,961—roughly 12,000 less than the total casualty figure Hamas reported as of April 30. In other words, Hamas added a third more deaths to the casualty count by including those unidentified and those believed to be buried under rubble—bodies that cannot be counted.

Other analyses have discredited Hamas death statistics but the media have ignored them, focusing obsessively on the “rising death count.” Last month, for example, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) drastically revised its casualty figures from the war in Gaza, reducing the number of “identified” women and children killed by more than half because 40% of deaths reported in Gaza were based on unverified data.

The media unfairly hold Israel responsible for any and all civilian deaths. Media almost never report Hamas’s cynical and criminal use of human shields. Thus, initial reports of the hostage rescue ignored Hamas’s hiding of hostages in a densely populated residential area.

Nor do major media ever mention Israel’s impressive civilian-to-combatant death ratio of just 1.5:1—perhaps the lowest in the history of modern warfare. Even if you believe Hamas’s bogus numbers, the civilian death toll in Gaza is extraordinarily low compared to averages in other wars, which often range as high as 4:1 (civilians to combatants).

We must hold the media accountable for factual reporting. No more fake death counts. No more ignoring Hamas’s daily war crimes and responsibility for tens of thousands of dead Palestinians.

Above all, stop blaming Israel for Palestinian deaths in Gaza. Our message must be “Hamas, stop killing your own people.”

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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