Hamas’ (and the BBC’s) phony statistics on civilian deaths

August 12, 2014

Weapons found in the home of a dead Gazan combatant. And yet the BBC, UN and others appear to have added him to their list of civilians killed


You can see these and other items that are not in these dispatches if you “like” this page: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia.



1. BBC and others continue to misreport even after the BBC’s own head of statistics questions their figures
2. “FPA protests in the strongest terms the blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox methods employed by the Hamas”
3. “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures” (By Anthony Reuben, Head of statistics, BBC News, August 8, 2014)
4. “Hamas’ phony statistics on civilian deaths” (By Alan Dershowitz, Gatestone Institute, August 7, 2014)
5. “A service for Hamas” (By Adi Schwartz, August 6, 2014)
6. “Civilian or not? New fight in tallying the dead from the Gaza conflict” (By Jodi Rudoren, New York Times, August 6, 2014)


[Note by Tom Gross]

Some of these items have been widely reported in the Israeli and Jewish media already. I wasn’t going to send them out, since I prepared many other dispatches, but it seems that the most respected media of the world, such as the BBC and the Economist are even now still propagating false information about the overall statistics and the proportion of civilians killed in Gaza.

They also reported similarly false information to make it seem that Israel was responsible for things it wasn’t responsible for in previous rounds of Hamas-Israeli fighting, or in cases such as the 1982 Lebanon war and the 2002 operation by the IDF to act against a wave of suicide bombers being sent to Israel from the West Bank town of Jenin.

The second item below – contrary to press reports in Israel – does not represent some change of reporting by the BBC. The item below appears in one small comer of the BBC website and has not prevented BBC correspondents on the network’s various news channels continuing to provide highly misleading misinformation about Israel.

Commentators such as Owen Jones in The Guardian yesterday, may do their best to argue that the current wave of anti-Semitic attacks has nothing to do with anti-Zionism, and is not fed, at least in part, by the hysterical campaign against Israel led by large sections of the media, but I beg to differ.


On a separate note, I am inundated by requests for information and help by readers of these dispatches and others – sometimes more than 1000 messages per day. I am exhausted and, not having any kind of assistance, it is physically impossible for me to reply to most of these (though I do try and reply to all the senior journalists and government officials on this list asking me for info). So my apologies to others.


It says a lot about the almost totalitarian-type group think in the international media and the inability of Israel to get a fair hearing, that no major mainstream western media outlet will agree to publish pieces of the kind that I include below by two subscribers to this list, the renowned writer Alan Dershowitz, and Adi Schwartz. Nor can I find a single major British newspaper to publish my own pieces on the BBC’s Israel coverage, even though the BBC’s own Head of Statistics agrees with me, at least in part. Such is the supposed openness of the British media.

-- Tom Gross


The following statement was released yesterday by the Jerusalem-based Foreign Press Association, an organization that spends most of its time criticizing Israel.

The question is why the BBC, CNN and others have failed to tell their viewers and readers about the Hamas intimidation that has forced many reporters to lie on behalf of Hamas. Could it be that many of these journalists enjoy (either consciously or perhaps sub-consciously) whipping up hatred against Israel back in their home countries?



The FPA protests in the strongest terms the blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox methods employed by the Hamas authorities and their representatives against visiting international journalists in Gaza over the past month.

The international media are not advocacy organisations and cannot be prevented from reporting by means of threats or pressure, thereby denying their readers and viewers an objective picture from the ground.

In several cases, foreign reporters working in Gaza have been harassed, threatened or questioned over stories or information they have reported through their news media or by means of social media.

We are also aware that Hamas is trying to put in place a “vetting” procedure that would, in effect, allow for the blacklisting of specific journalists. Such a procedure is vehemently opposed by the FPA.

August 11, 2014



Established in June 1957 by 31 enterprising journalists, the Foreign Press Association in Israel -- known as the FPA -- attempts to fulfil the same task today as it did at its inception -- working to assist our members in covering the Middle East conflict…. The FPA is a legally registered private, non-profit organization operating solely on the basis of annual membership dues…. To date, the FPA numbers some 480 members representing TV, radio, photojournalists and print media from 32 countries reaching from Australia to Qatar, Africa to Europe, China to the USA.



Tom Gross: In my article about the BBC of July 19, 2014, I wrote:


“The numbers of dead reported are based primarily on Palestinian claims, and these need closer examination over time (as the Jenin “massacre” should have demonstrated to the media). Indeed if 80 % of Gazans killed in the last two weeks were random civilians, as the BBC and other Western media claim, it is odd that (according to for example, a careful analysis by al-Jazeera) the majority of fatalities are men of fighting age – this in a territory where more than half the population are aged under 15.”

I am glad that three weeks later, after slandering Israel hour by hour over that time, the Head of BBC statistics has also woken up (see item below) to the fact that al-Jazeera has been more accurate than the BBC, that has been badly misleading audiences about civilian casualties in Gaza. Because the BBC is highly respected (wrongly when it comes to the Middle East), other media around the world have copied the BBC as if it were really true that Israel has killed as many civilians as the BBC claims.

Even the article below, however, is very misleading and underplays by far, the extent to which the BBC has been providing false figures. I just don’t have time to outline this in detail here. Someone should write a book about it.


If you have limited time, I recommend that instead of reading the BBC and New York Times items below, both of which have many faults and only tell part of the story, you read the piece by Alan Dershowitz, who is a longtime subscriber to this list, and who sums up well many of the points I have been making in these dispatches, on my public Facebook page and in various media interviews.

-- Tom Gross



Last updated at 00:52 GMT
Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures
By Anthony Reuben Head of statistics, BBC News
August 8, 2014

War zones are not easy places to collect statistics.

In the Gaza conflict, most news organisations have been quoting from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which leads a group of humanitarian organisations known as the Protection Cluster.

Its recent report said that as of 6 August, 1,843 Palestinians had been killed and 66 Israelis and one Thai national since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on 8 July.

Of those Palestinians, the status of 279 could not be identified, at least 1,354 were civilians, including 415 children and 214 women, the UN body reported.

So there were 216 members of armed groups killed, and another 725 men who were civilians. Among civilians, more than three times as many men were killed as women, while three times as many civilian men were killed as fighters.

The UN report carries a caveat with its figures: “Data on fatalities and destruction of property is consolidated by the Protection and Shelter clusters based on preliminary information, and is subject to change based on further verifications.”

There has been some research suggesting that men in general are more likely to die in conflict than women, although no typical ratio is given.

Nonetheless, if the Israeli attacks have been “indiscriminate”, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.

Matthias Behnk, from OHCHR, told BBC News that the organisation would not want to speculate about why there had been so many adult male casualties, adding that because they were having to deal with a lot of casualties in a short time, they had “focused primarily on recording the casualties”.

“As such, we have not at this stage conducted a detailed analysis of trends of civilian casualties, for example in relation to the reasons why different groups are affected and the types of incidents, but hope to carry this out at some point in the coming future,” he said.

“However, even in the compiling of these preliminary figures, we cross-verify between different sources, not only media and several different human rights organisations, but also use other sources, including, for example, names of alleged fighters released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and notices by armed groups in Gaza claiming someone as a member.”

A number of other news organisations have been considering the civilian-to-fighter ratio.

An analysis by the New York Times looked at the names of 1,431 casualties and found that “the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll. They are 9% of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents, but 34% of those killed whose ages were provided.”

“At the same time, women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71% of the population and 33% of the known-age casualties.”

The list of names and ages of the dead published by al-Jazeera also found men aged between 20 and 29 to be significantly overrepresented.

The IDF say they have killed at least 253 Hamas operatives, 147 Islamic Jihad operatives, 65 “operatives of various organisations” and 603 “operatives whose affiliation is unknown”, although they also stress that this is not a final number.

Spokesman Capt Eytan Buchman told BBC News that “the UN numbers being reported are, by and by large, based on the Gaza health ministry, a Hamas-run organisation”.

He said that part of the reason for the discrepancy between the figures was “when militants are brought to hospitals, they are brought in civilian clothing, obscuring terrorist affiliations”.

“Hamas also has given local residents directives to obscure militant identities,” he said.

“It’s important to bear in mind that in Operation Cast Lead [the last Israeli ground offensive in December 2008-January 2009], Hamas and Gaza-based organisations claimed that only 50 combatants were killed, admitting years later the number was between 600-700, a figure nearly identical to the figure claimed by the IDF.”

In conclusion, we do not yet know for sure how many of the dead in Gaza are civilians and how many were fighters. This is in no sense the fault of the UN employees collecting the figures - their statistics are accompanied by caveats and described as preliminary and subject to revision.

But it does mean that some of the conclusions being drawn from them may be premature.



Hamas’ Phony Statistics on Civilian Deaths
By Alan Dershowitz
Gatestone Institute
August 7, 2014


It’s a mystery why so many in the media accept as gospel Hamas-supplied figures on the number of civilians killed in the recent war. Hamas claims that of the more than 1800 Palestinians killed close to 90% were civilians. Israel, on the other hand, says that close to half of them were combatants. The objective facts support a number much closer to Israel’s than to Hamas’.

Even human rights group antagonistic to Israel acknowledge, according to a New York Times report, that Hamas probably counts among the “civilians killed by Israel” the following groups: Palestinians killed by Hamas as collaborators; Palestinians killed through domestic violence; Palestinians killed by errant Hamas rockets or mortars; and Palestinians who died naturally during the conflict. I wonder if Hamas also included the reported 162 children who died while performing child slave labor in building their terror tunnels. Hamas also defines combatants to include only armed fighters who were killed while fighting Israelis. They exclude Hamas supporters who build tunnels, who allow their homes to be used to store and fire rockets, Hamas policemen, members of the Hamas political wing and others who work hand in hand with the armed terrorists.

Several years ago I came up with a concept which I call, the “continuum of civilianality”—an inelegant phrase that is intended to convey the reality that who is a civilian and who is a combatant is often a matter of degree. Clearly every child below the age in which he or she is capable of assisting Hamas is a civilian. Clearly every Hamas fighter who fires rockets, bears arms, or operates in the tunnels is a combatant. Between these extremes lie a wide range of people, some of whom are closer to the civilian end, many of whom who are closer to the combatant end. The law of war has not established a clear line between combatants and civilians, especially in the context of urban warfare where people carry guns at night and bake bread during the day, or fire rockets during the day and go back home to sleep with their families at night. (Interestingly the Israeli Supreme Court has tried to devise a functional definition of combatants in the murky context of urban guerrilla warfare.)

Data published by the New York Times strongly suggest that a very large number—perhaps a majority—of those killed are closer to the combatant end of the continuum than to the civilian end. First of all, the vast majority of those killed have been male rather than female. In an Islamic society, males are far more likely to be combatants than females. Second, most of those killed are within the age range (15-40) that are likely to be combatants. The vast majority of these are male as well. The number of people over 60 who have been killed is infinitesimal. The number of children below the age of 15 is also relatively small, although their pictures have been shown more frequently than others. In other words, the genders and ages of those killed are not representative of the general population of Gaza. It is far more representative of the genders and ages of combatants. These data strongly suggest that a very large percentage of Palestinians killed are on the combatant side of the continuum.

They also prove, as if any proof were necessary to unbiased eyes, that Israel did not target civilians randomly. If it had, the dead would be representative of the Gaza population in general, rather than of the subgroups most closely identified with combatants.

The media should immediately stop using Hamas-approved statistics, which in the past have proved to be extremely unreliable. Instead, they should try to document, independently, the nature of each person killed and describe their age, gender, occupation, affiliation with Hamas and other objective factors relevant to their status as a combatant, non-combatant or someone in the middle. It is lazy and dangerous for the media to rely on Hamas-approved propaganda figures. In fact, when the infamous Goldstone Report falsely stated that the vast majority of people killed in Operation Cast Lead were civilians and not Hamas fighters, many in Gaza complained to Hamas. They accused Hamas of cowardice for allowing so many civilians to be killed while protecting their own fighters. As a result of these complaints, Hamas was forced to tell the truth: namely that many more of those killed were actually Hamas fighters or armed policemen. It is likely that Hamas will make a similar “correction” with regard to this conflict. But that correction will not be covered by the media, as the prior correction was not.

The headline—”Most of those killed by Israel were children, women and the elderly”—will continue to be the conventional wisdom, despite its factual falsity. Unless it is corrected, Hamas will continue with its “dead baby strategy” and more people on both sides will die.



A Service for Hamas
By Adi Schwartz
August 6, 2014


Sitting in my living room for the last month and watching European and American TV coverage of the war between Hamas and Israel was a confusing experience. While sirens were going off in my residential suburb of Tel Aviv, signaling rockets coming in from Gaza, I never saw the Palestinians shooting them. In fact, I never saw on TV any armed men in Gaza, or their rifles or their launching pads – only epic scenes of rubble and destruction. And yes, lots of children and elderly women.

That’s a bit odd, given the fact that Palestinians launched some 3,000 rockets since the beginning of the war, killed more than 60 Israelis and wounded hundreds. But who shot the rockets? Who was killing Israeli soldiers? While we saw Israeli tanks maneuvering near the border, we never saw Palestinian combatants.

Foreign journalists who left Gaza this week admitted the obvious: Hamas controlled every image coming out of the Palestinian territory, not allowing photographers and reporters to document military activity, or even to show wounded Hamas men in hospitals. Adamant on winning a PR battle, the Palestinians used intimidation methods and would not allow any snapshot that could damage their image as harmless and defenseless victims.

Gabriele Barbati, an Italian reporter for the TV station TgCom24, tweeted upon leaving the Palestinian territory last week: “Out of Gaza, far from Hamas retaliation”. He then refuted the Palestinian version of an incident in which 10 children were killed on July 28th. According to Barbati’s own account, a misfired Hamas rocket – and not an Israeli bombing – was responsible for the killing, and Hamas militants “rushed and cleared debris”. While the Palestinian version that accused Israel for the killing was circulating in all major media outlets, Barbati’s account was not (in a phone conversation, he declined to elaborate on the “Hamas retaliation” he was fearing).

A Spanish journalist coming out of Gaza this week admitted in a private conversation that he saw Hamas fighters very close to the hotel where he, and many other foreign journalists, were staying. “If ever we dare pointing our camera on them,” he said, “they would simply shoot and kill us.” He refused to go on-the-record.

Another example of this overwhelming absence of realistic representation of what really went on in Gaza came from France, where the daily Libération published on July 24th a first-person account of a French-Palestinian journalist, who was intimidated by Hamas armed men and ordered to leave immediately the Palestinian territory. Of all places, his interrogation took place in a hospital, a few meters from the emergency room, affirming Israeli claims that Hamas uses hospitals and other civilian compounds. This account was taken off the French newspaper’s website a few days later, per the journalist’s request.
In 15 years of work as journalist in Israel, I met professional, honest and truth-seeking foreign reporters, who are doing their job in a difficult environment. However, many tend to hide the fact that their accounts are heavily flawed, since Hamas would not allow any other outcome. Others tend to bring with them their biases – personal, journalistic or ideological.

First, there is a basic fear for safety, working under a fundamentalist Islamic regime, which is stifling free speech. No difficult questions can be asked, and real investigative journalism is simply impossible. In the words of a senior journalist for one of Europe’s biggest newspapers, “what I can write from Tel Aviv I cannot do from Gaza”.

This can be especially true for women reporters, such as the Dutch TV journalist, Annet Röst, who told me how she was harassed in Gaza a few years ago by a large group of men. She was eventually saved by the Palestinian police.

But sometimes problems run even deeper, as the story of a Spanish correspondent in Israel, proves. Upon sending one of his stories to the newsroom, where the editor found it not sympathetic enough to the Palestinians, he was asked: “Why are you so objective?”
Consciously or not, some foreign journalists sympathize with the Palestinian side. For them, Israel is the oppressor and Hamas is the victim. With this post-colonial worldview, Israel is always at fault, and the Palestinians are always their victims, no matter what. The fact that Hamas does not recognize Israel in any border, and that its stated goal is to destroy the Jewish state, is never mentioned in their reports.

Despite many cases of misinformation in the past (such as reports of “massacres” on board the Marmara in 2010 and in Jenin in 2002), many international reporters still tend to air anti-Israeli accusations very quickly. While questioning every Israeli statement, they treat Palestinian communiqués as if they were the Bible. There is no possible way currently to know exactly how many of the Palestinian casualties are civilians, and still most reporters simply repeat Hamas’ official statements, that “most victims are women and children”. In previous cases this was proved to be wrong.

The bottom line is that what’s coming out of Gaza these days is not free press. What’s been shown is what Hamas wants the media to show – not how it operates from within residential areas, not how it stores weapons in mosques and clinics, and not the vast network of tunnels it built in order to attack Israel.

Gaza was indeed bombed by the Israeli army, and civilians were getting killed. But by not showing the true nature of Hamas’ war against Israel – with all its cowardice and cruelty – the context that could explain Israel’s actions was missing. That’s not only a disservice for Western viewers and readers, but a great service – intentional or not – for Hamas’ propaganda machine.

Update: in the last 24 hours, accounts are getting out of Gaza documenting launching of rockets from heavily populated areas. One such example is this Indian TV’s footage, and another example is this France24 report.



(New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren is also a subscriber to this list, having written to me last year and asked me to add her.)


Click at this link to see some of the graphs accompanying the article below:


Civilian or Not? New Fight in Tallying the Dead From the Gaza Conflict
By Jodi Rudoren
New York Times
August 6, 2014

GAZA CITY — Inside the Health Sciences Library at Al-Shifa Hospital here, a small team spent the war crunching numbers. Stuck to their laptops were a statistician, a graphic designer, a data-entry specialist and an issuer of death certificates, some of whom spent nights sleeping in their straight-backed chairs.

By Tuesday, this is what they had come up with: 1,865 “martyrs” from “Israeli aggression” since July 6: 429 under age 18, 79 over 60, 243 women. The Palestinian Ministry of Health does not categorize victims as civilian or combatant, but others do: The United Nations — which had a lower death toll, 1,814 — said that at least 72 percent were civilians, while two Gaza-based groups put the percentage at 82 (Al Mezan Center for Human Rights) and 84 (the Palestinian Center for Human Rights).

Israel has a very different assessment. The military says it took the lives of 900 “terrorists,” but it did not provide specifics beyond the 368 cases listed in 28 entries on its blog. Politicians have been saying that 47 percent of the dead were fighters, citing a study by an Israeli counterterrorism group that is impressive in its documentation, using photographs and Internet tributes, but analyzes only the first 152 casualties, when the assault was exclusively from the air.

Even as the war appears to draw to a close, the battle over casualty statistics rages on. No other number is as contentious as the ratio of civilians to combatants killed, widely viewed, including in Israel, as a measure of whether the commanders in the field acted proportionately to the threat posed by militants — or, in the eyes of Israel’s critics, committed war crimes.

“There are big problems in the numbers because there are such huge numbers,” said Samir Zaqout, who runs a team of 10 Al Mezan field workers who interview relatives, neighbors and doctors to compile dossiers on each attack. “We do our best in this horrible situation to be very clear.”

Palestinians and their supporters contend Israel massacred innocents with indiscriminate assaults with heavy weapons, citing numerous strikes that killed multiple family members in their homes and several that hit schools sheltering those who had sought refuge.

Israel, in turn, says that Hamas, the militant group that dominates Gaza, purposely sacrifices its own citizens by fighting in their midst, in order to raise the world’s ire against Israel. It says that the ratio of combatants killed in a densely populated urban environment supports its assertion that it conducted the attacks as humanely as possible.

To combat the heart-wrenching photographs of dead children, Israel has published extensive video images of warplanes aborting missions to avoid collateral damage, and provided summaries of warnings it gave residents before attacking buildings.

Accurate accounting for this bloody battle is problematic, especially since the fighting just stopped. Mr. Zaqout of Al Mezan expects that scores more bodies will be pulled from the rubble, many of them militants, in places like Shejaiya, Rafah and Beit Hanoun that saw the hottest combat.

An analysis of the statistics provided by both sides suggests that a majority were probably noncombatants. Through last Thursday, according to a New York Times analysis of a list provided by the Health Ministry, more than a third were women, children under 15 or men over 60.

But the difference between roughly half the dead being combatants, in the Israeli version, or barely 10 percent, to use the most stark numbers on the other side, is wide enough to change the characterization of the conflict.

It seems unlikely that there will ever be a definitive breakdown both sides accept: Israel contends that some of the casualties were caused by errant Hamas rockets or mortars. Human rights groups acknowledge that people killed by Hamas as collaborators and people who died naturally, or perhaps through domestic violence, are most likely counted as well.

Then there is the question of who counts as a “combatant.”

There are uniformed men actively firing weapons. But Hamas also has political figures, members of its security service and employees of its ministries. In some eyes, anyone affiliated with the organization, which professes a goal of destroying Israel, is a combatant.

“Israel has a very liberal definition of who qualifies,” said Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch. “Israel’s labeling of certain individuals as ‘terrorists’ does not make them military targets as a matter of law.”

But the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the Israeli group that analyzed the first Palestinian deaths, accused the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry of “concealment and deception” in order “to create an ostensibly factual infrastructure for a political, propaganda and legal campaign against Israel.”

The Times analysis, looking at 1,431 names, shows that the population most likely to be militants, men ages 20 to 29, is also the most overrepresented in the death toll: They are 9 percent of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents, but 34 percent of those killed whose ages were provided. At the same time, women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71 percent of the population and 33 percent of the known-age casualties.

The portion that were female rose steadily over that period, to 27 percent July 26-31. There were six infants under age 1 on the list, and 82 children ages 1 to 5. The oldest victim, Muhammad Mazin Faraj Daher, was 99.

Some have not yet been identified, and may never be. “Some of the bodies are just in pieces,” said Julie Webb, 61, a New Zealander who has lived in Gaza for three years and assists the Health Ministry. Others, like Syrian refugees, have not been verified because they are not in the Palestinian population registry.

Though her team in the hospital library is not involved in counting combatants, Ms. Webb doubts that many have been missed. “The resistance factions claim their dead, and they have big funerals,” she said. “They would never hide it, because it’s a thing of pride.”

News reports generally rely on the United Nations’ estimate of civilians killed. Matthias Behnke, a United Nations official, said those numbers came from cross-referencing research by several human rights groups, though he declined to say how many, which ones or what methods they used.

“Getting information about people who are dead is not that complicated because everybody knows everybody” in Gaza, Mr. Behnke said. “Organizations go out and collect information independent of each other. That is quite a good basis for doing the analysis.

“We are by no means saying these figures are absolute and final,” he added. “They will be subject to verification.”

At Al Mezan’s office here, Mr. Zaqout and his aides were using highlighters to update handwritten logs on Tuesday evening. He said he did not rely on the Health Ministry data, though it had improved since Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9, when telephone, cellular and wireless Internet networks were cut off.

Instead, his 10 field workers collect names directly from Gaza’s 13 hospitals (four have been closed because of bombing) and five morgues, and go to the site of virtually every strike to conduct interviews and fill out detailed questionnaires in support of war-crimes accusations. Surviving children might deny that their father was a fighter, but a medical worker might say he arrived at the emergency room with a weapon in hand.

“Each incident that we have which the Israelis targeted for airstrike, always we have this kind of thinking that maybe there is a fighter,” Mr. Zaqout said. “When we’re talking about the fighters who are fighting on the border or the tunnels, we couldn’t know, because their bodies are not coming to the hospital. I think these numbers will increase in the next days.”

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.