May 2, 2024 | Policy Brief

Gaza Health Ministry Cannot Provide Names for More Than 10,000 It Says Have Died

May 2, 2024 | Policy Brief

Gaza Health Ministry Cannot Provide Names for More Than 10,000 It Says Have Died

The Gaza Ministry of Health cannot provide names of more than 10,000 of the 34,000 individuals it says have died during the war between Israel and Hamas. While the Health Ministry conceded earlier this month that it has “incomplete data” for nearly one-third of the deceased, this is the first admission that it lacks an essential data point necessary to establish these deaths have even taken place.

The Gaza Health Ministry is an arm of the Hamas-run government in Gaza. On April 24, to mark the 200th day of the war Hamas started, the ministry released a graphic in which it reiterated the claim that hostilities have taken more than 34,000 lives, adding that only 24,000 of the dead are “martyrs whose idintities [sic] are recognized.” On April 28, a Wall Street Journal story about the ministry’s data confirmed, “Around 10,000 people included in the Health Ministry’s official death toll haven’t been identified.”

At the outset of the war, the ministry compiled casualty figures by collecting information from Gaza hospitals, which provided the names of the deceased. When Israeli military operations disrupted the ministry’s communication with medical facilities in Gaza, the ministry began to rely on what it described as “reliable media sources” for information about possible deaths. The ministry neither identified these sources nor the criteria according to which it assessed the credibility of their information.

The proportion of data derived from media sources increased sharply as the war progressed. As of December 31, the ministry reported 6,629 deaths based on media information, or 30.2 percent of the total at the time. During the first three months of 2024, media sources accounted for an additional 8,441 deaths, or 77.7 percent of all fatalities reported during the first quarter.

Since April 1, the ministry’s statistical digests have distinguished between fatality records with “complete data” as opposed to “incomplete data.” In effect, the ministry relabeled most records based on “reliable media sources” as records with “incomplete data.” It did not provide a reason for the change.

As of April 21, 10,152 records had incomplete data. What remains unclear is the degree to which these records are incomplete. An explanatory note in the April 1 digest says incomplete records lack one or more of five basic data points: ID number, full name, sex, date of birth, or date of death. It is now clear the ministry does not have names for these individuals; how much data it does have remains unknown.

There is also data missing from thousands of records the ministry labels as complete. The economist Michael Spagat, who has consistently defended the ministry’s methods, found 3,407 records with errors in a dataset the ministry released at the end of March. These include duplicate records, records with invalid or missing ID numbers, and records that give no age for the deceased.

Spagat found that if one looked only at the complete records, “then the percentage of women and children drops to 53.3 percent,” as opposed to the 70 percent or more the ministry has often claimed — although it began to back off that assertion in early April. The Wall Street Journal also noted that the gender breakdown does not support the 70 percent claim.

President Joe Biden has cited the ministry’s figures on multiple occasions, often without identifying their source. Before citing them again, he should ask the intelligence community to evaluate the data’s sources and accuracy. Likewise, journalists should press the Gaza Health Ministry to explain the increasing number of inconsistencies in its reports. In the absence of scrutiny, misinformation and apparent disinformation will proliferate as part of Hamas’ efforts to win international sympathy.

David Adesnik is research director and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Israel Program. For more analysis from David and FDD, please subscribe HERE. Follow David on X @adesnik. Follow FDD on X @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


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