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Israel's New Defense: We Didn't Kill as Many Women and Children as You Think

The headline in the Times of Israel is eye-catching: “UN Cuts by More than Half the Number of Women, Children ‘Identified’ as Killed in Gaza.” The article opens: “In a dramatic development, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has sharply revised downward the number of ‘identified’ female and child fatalities in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.” However, the reality behind this “dramatic development” is rather pathetic.

OCHA has adopted the change made by the Gaza Health Ministry, whereby the 35,000 or so civilian deaths are now split into those pronounced dead in a hospital (around 24,600) and those reported dead outside of hospitals (around 10,400). The former are now called “identified” deaths, the latter “unregistered” deaths. Israeli media, including the Times of Israel, are rather bizarrely touting this as a massive, unprecedented drop in deaths. It is as if a mass killer, after admitting that he murdered 25 people, contended that you don’t have the same level of proof on the other 10. Again, it was Gaza’s Health Ministry that, months ago, initiated the distinction between hospital-level identifications of death and the reporting on dead bodies that never made it to the hospital.

The one element of reality in the new argument is a finding that the Gaza Health Ministry has always listed a higher percentage of women and children dying away from hospitals than in hospitals, so now among the “identified” deaths, the percentage of women and children by one count may be down as low as 12,800 (of the 24,600 total), or about 52%. If this is true, the previous figure of 24,000 women and children killed would more likely be in the range of 20,000, assuming around 7,200 of the 10,400 out-of-hospital deaths were women and children. While 20,000 is not 24,000, it is not something Israeli media should be proud of, nor does it support Netanyahu’s claim that the IDF only killed 16,000 civilians.

The Times of Israel relies heavily on a March study by two academics from Australia, and one from Israel. The Israeli, Prof. Lewi Stone, was the biomathematician of the study. (The other two involved a “generalist economist” and an expert in international law.) The study made much of the lower ratio of women and children amongst the “identified” deaths, that is, confirmed by a hospital. They found that from Oct. 7 to Dec. 31, some 60% of hospital-registered deaths were women and children. Further, the trio argue, it is statistically impossible for the non-hospital deaths to be so heavily weighted toward the women and children, so as to have the total reach the much-used 70% estimate.

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