What to make of Israel’s health warning on rising Palestinian death toll?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 7, 2023
The WHO says Gaza data has been 'solid over the years'

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

One month into Israel’s ferocious war on Gaza, it’s worth looking at the most tragic numbers of them all and assessing what they might mean.

More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-run health authorities.

That’s a line endlessly repeated now by most media organisations. Both the scale of Gaza’s dead and the fact that these figures are collated by the territory’s Hamas-run health authorities.

The caveat “according to the Hamas-run health authorities” has assumed increasing importance in the past couple weeks since Israeli defence spokesmen started to cast doubt on the Palestinian death toll. The Israel Defense Forces said that “any information provided by a terrorist organisation should be viewed with caution”.

Sure, but is there any reason to distrust them altogether?

On November 6, veteran BBC correspondent Paul Adams took to the airwaves to explain that it’s reasonable to trust the mortality and injury figures coming out of Gaza. While Hamas has run Gaza, the local government machine has long-term civil servants and figures of considerable expertise, he noted.

Indeed, BBC Verify, the broadcaster’s newish team of open source journalists, has explained the procedure used to log the details of every death in Gaza. According to the BBC piece, the Gaza health ministry “says that when a death occurs as a result of an Israeli strike or attack, a hospital registers the details into a computer. The details logged include full name, age, ID number and sex. This information is transferred daily from individual hospitals into a central computer system and compiled by the ministry. Once processed, the data is provided to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). The PCBS told the BBC the figures only cover those who have died in hospital – it does not account for those killed under buildings or who cannot be identified”.

The piece also quoted World Health Organization spokesman Richard Brennan’s publicly expressed opinion that the tragic figures emerging from Gaza are trustworthy: “We’re confident that the information management systems that the ministry of health has put in place over the years stand up to analysis. The data over the years has been quite solid.”

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