Are Hamas figures reliable? “There is a desire to hide the deaths of fighters” – L’Express

Are Hamas figures reliable There is a desire to hide

Can we trust Hamas’ figures? The question has been regularly asked since the start of the Israeli response in Gaza. Very often, without obtaining a clear answer. For good reason: this data is impossible to confirm independently, the conflict taking place almost behind closed doors. In a much-discussed article, entitled “How the Gaza Ministry of Health Falsifies Casualty Figures”, published in Tablet, a magazine dedicated to Jewish news and culture, Abraham Wyner is categorical: “If the Hamas figures are rigged or fraudulent in one way or another, there may be evidence in the figures themselves allowing to demonstrate it.” For L’Express, this professor of statistics and data science at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania reviews his conclusions, and analyzes the political agenda that these figures betray.

L’Express: Is the evolution of the number of deaths over time, according to Hamas figures, consistent?

Abraham Wyner: Between October 26 and November 11, the only period during which Hamas – via Ocha [NDLR : le Bureau des Nations unies pour la coordination des affaires humanitaires] – published daily totals broken down by subcategories (men, women, children), the numbers increased at a near constant rate (270 per day, with very little variation). In other words, if we were to graph this data, we would get an almost perfect straight line. I don’t think such a development is possible in times of war. On the contrary, the figures should be very fluctuating, since the strikes are not carried out perfectly regularly, nor systematically, in busy places. We could therefore expect to see days with very few deaths (between 0 and 50) and others with 400 deaths or more.

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Should we necessarily see these inconsistencies as “falsifications”? Couldn’t some anomalies be the result of errors?

My calculations are not conclusive, that is, the question is not completely resolved, since they are based on circumstantial data. The fact remains that the errors are significant and always seem to favor the Hamas narrative… To take just one example, it has happened on several occasions that the number of deaths reported one day contradicts the figures from the day before, to the point of insinuating that victims would have been resurrected. One day, “26 men” came back to life. On other days, which were not listed on the Ocha website when I collected the data, 145 men had been resurrected. This suggests that someone is not paying attention to the count.

But I doubt that’s the case, especially considering that on days when men came back to life, the number of female victims was disproportionately higher than on other days. The other explanation, which seems more likely to me, is that the categories were deliberately readjusted to hide the deaths of men who were combatants, particularly by pretending that many were children.

At the end of February, the Reuters news agency reported that a group official had admitted to losing 6,000 fighters – Hamas later denied this figure to the BBC. In your article, you estimate that such losses would represent around 20% of victims, compared to around 70% of women or children reported by Hamas…

This is not plausible. Just add the 20% to the 70% to realize that this leaves very little room for civilian men, who represent around 25% of Gaza’s population… Where are they? In short: either all the men in Gaza are fighters, or these figures are incorrect.

Hamas is trying to convince the world of two things: first, that Israel is incapable of effectively killing its fighters; second, that Israel is very effective at killing non-combatants and innocent people (women and children). That’s exactly what they want you to believe with these numbers. It doesn’t matter that these are false and are war propaganda. They do it because it works. People believe them. But the reality is that Israel (if its numbers, which historically have been accurate, are to be believed) is effectively crushing Hamas.

Comparing Hamas reports with data on Hamas workers Unrwaa group of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health argued, in The LancAnd, that because the death rates were roughly similar, there was “no evidence” to suggest that the Gaza Health Ministry’s figures were inflated. What do you think ?

I found this article appalling because it ignored the most obvious and relevant counter-explanation: the fact that UNRWA workers are disproportionately male and affiliated with Hamas – as revealed in an article in Wall Street Journal, which examined reports showing that around 10% of the 12,000 UNRWA employees in Gaza had links to Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Additionally, Hamas also used UNRWA facilities as command centers. We can therefore expect that deaths within UNRWA will be more numerous than civilian deaths. Furthermore, the article of Lancet does not at all address what I am talking about, namely the distribution between civilians (women, children, etc.) and combatants. The statistics presented are insignificant and the conclusion is both unsupported and irrelevant. The final result ? A stunning acceptance of propaganda as fact.

READ ALSO: James Lindsay: “UNRWA has developed a systematically negative approach towards Israel”

There are those who think Hamas’ numbers are inflated. But many other voices believe that these figures are rather underestimated. What is your point of view ?

It is entirely possible that the total figures are underestimated. But the total count constitutes a secondary element which distracts attention from what is really the essential point of comparison: the ratio between the number of civilians killed and the number of combatants. The latter is very important, in that it shows that the loss of civilian life is not disproportionate to the military gain (the ratio does not need to be 1:1 to be moral and legal according to the international rules of war).

Is it possible to estimate the current ratio between the number of civilian casualties and the number of Hamas fighters killed?

Of the 30,000 people believed to have died, around 13,000 are fighters, according to the Israeli army. There are also between 0 and 5,000 people among those 30,000 who did not die or were killed by errant rockets (10 to 20 percent of Hamas rockets miss their target and land in Gaza), by means natural or, for example, by internal battles – Hamas gives a balance sheet of all deaths, whatever their cause. The group would have us believe that the civilian/combatant ratio is 10:1, but it must be somewhere between less than 1 and 1.4:1.

Many commentators agree that, in the past, Hamas’ numbers have been relatively reliable. According to The Economist (citing data compiled by AP), the difference between Hamas’ figures and those used by the UN was only 3.8% after the 2008-2009 Gaza war (1,440 dead, according to Hamas, 1,385, according to the UN), by 2.6% in 2014 (2,310 against 2,251) and by 1.5% in 2021 (260 against 256)…

In previous battles with Israel, Hamas Health Ministry figures for total deaths have been found to be roughly accurate. But, during these battles, there were independent observers on the ground who could serve as safeguards. They are all absent in the current war, probably because it is much larger and more extensive, making the region dangerous for everyone, including foreigners.

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Second, even in previous wars, Hamas’ figures for the number of its fighters killed were ridiculous. For example, during the 2008-2009 Gaza war, Hamas claimed to have lost 49 of its fighters, while Israel counted 709. Nearly two years later, Hamas admitted to having lost between 600 and 700 fighters.

Although many observers are cautious about the figures from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry, they are nevertheless cited by many official sources. “Gaza: 30,000 dead”, for example, headlined the newspaper Release on February 28, based on Hamas figures. Is it a problem ?

It is a scandal. Hamas in particular and Palestinian leaders in general have a long history of lying. In Arabic, they lie about the damage they are causing to Israel (Al-Jazeera reported that Hamas destroyed 970 Israeli tanks). In English, they lie about the number of children by deliberately classifying adult male fighters aged 19 as children. Either the West doesn’t know it and should know it, or it knows it and doesn’t care.

During the Second Intifada, French television presented countless examples of faked victim scenes, with “dead” people falling from and getting back on stretchers, what is known as “Pallywood”. [NDLR : contraction de “Palestine” et “Hollywood”, cette expression accompagne souvent des publications de comptes pro-Israéliens dénonçant des “acteurs” qui joueraient des victimes palestiniennes]. Where has people’s memory gone?