Hamas’s death toll figures are not believable

The death rate figures emerging from Gaza and relayed nightly on our TV screens have been received with an astonishing lack of critical scrutiny.

Maybe it’s because the only people worse at maths than politicians are journalists. Or maybe it’s just the latter’s innocence and gullibility. Whatever the explanation, the death rate figures emerging from Gaza and relayed nightly on our TV screens have been received with an astonishing lack of critical scrutiny. It was enough to wrap their source in a cloak called “Gaza Ministry of Health” to give them the seal of respectability necessary to be accepted as unquestioned truth.

Israel took a week to verify the 1,200 death toll from the initial Hamas attack on its citizens on 7 October. But apparently Hamas can issue instant mortality data running into thousands and have them swallowed whole by the world’s media. One would never think the source is one of the world’s leading terrorist entities, busy implementing its political program in creatively sadistic ways by burning, shooting and raping over 1,200 people in a single day last October and holding another 240 in underground tunnels ever since, and promising to do it all again. Would such folks lie? ‘Perish the thought’ seems to be the default response.

As of last weekend, 17 March, the total death toll since October, based on “Ministry of Health” published data, was 31,000, all of them presented by Hamas as, and assumed by our media to be, Gazan civilians.

For starters, two obvious questions suggest themselves:

(1) Where are the fighters?

(2) Could exaggeration be a factor?

Taking the fighters’ toll first, Hamas doesn’t publish such a figure. After the war’s end, we will see them glorified in luridly colourful online mourning profiles, complete with their AK-47s and RPGs, but for now, it’s a reverent shush.

Exaggeration? This goes back a long way, at least as far as the so-called ‘Jenin Massacre’ of 2002, when the IDF launched an operation to clear out a terrorist group that had launched numerous attacks on civilians, including a suicide bomb attack that had killed 30 Jewish Israelis at a Passover seder. In a hard-fought encounter they killed 56 of the terrorists, with 23 of their own killed and 52 wounded. Senior Palestinian Authority (PA) official Saeb Erekat told CNN that 500 Palestinians had been killed in the camp; days later, the PA Secretary raised the toll to “thousands”.

Wall mural in Tel Aviv calling for the release of the Israeli hostages
Wall mural in Tel Aviv calling for the release of the Israeli hostages

Similar exaggeration was evident on 17 October last when a misfired Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket exploded in the car park of Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City. The Hamas “Health Ministry” rushed out a claim that 500 had died in the blast. This was contradicted by western religious and intelligence agencies which estimated the toll at the low end of the range 100-300. In the Kuwaiti roundabout gunfights of 3 and 4 March, in which Hamas gunmen mingled with queues awaiting humanitarian aid to attack IDF troops, the Hamas media office claimed 100 Gazans had died, while this was later corrected to 20 by the “Ministry of Health” itself.

Allowing for such exaggeration, would it be reasonable to factor in a reduction of 25% on that figure of 31,000, to, say, 25,000? It’s guesswork, and the actual figure may be much lower, but a modest deduction of that order would not seem out of place.

Next to be deducted is the death toll from mishaps of the type of rocket misfire that happened at Al-Ahli hospital (such misfires account for about 12 per cent of all launches) or the stampede at the food trucks at Al-Rashid St. Estimate about 2,000 for those and add a further 3,000 for the natural deaths of Gazans which Hamas includes in its overall casualty figures. That would subtract a further, say, 5,000 deaths over five months that have nothing to do with Israel, bringing the total down to about 20,000.

Finally, there is the Israeli claim that it has killed 13,000 Hamas since October. If this is true (and Hamas has not disputed it) and we assume them to be included in the overall total of 31,000, it means that Hamas combatants may make up 13,000 of 20,000, or 65%, of the total actual Israeli-related death toll. Another way of putting that is that roughly two terrorists have died for every civilian killed. That is a civilian : combatant ratio of about 1:2.

Those who study the grim mathematics of war usually quote the UN estimate that about 90 per cent of casualties in urban warfare are civilians, giving a civilian:combatant ratio of 9:1. Lower ratios of 3:1 or 2:1 have been quoted for the world wars and the Korean war.

In this context, the civilian:combatant ratio achieved by Israel’s army in the urban settings of Gaza is an exceptionally good outcome.

The demonisers and Israelophobes in our media and politics and the accusers at The Hague will carry on with their cries of ‘genocide’. But the care demonstrated by the Israeli army to achieve a ratio as low as 1:2 must dispose of all allegations of genocidal intent, never mind actual genocide.

By Dermot Meleady.

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