WashPost's Kessler: 'Remarkably Uninformed' To Doubt Hamas's Casualty Reports

November 1st, 2023 12:36 PM

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler decided to detour from going after Republicans on Wednesday to condemn something President Biden said recently. Unfortunately, it was on the subject of Biden doubting Hamas’s casualty reports, labeling such remarks “remarkably uninformed by history and precedent.”

After several paragraphs of setting up the controversy, including how “In any war, statistics on deaths are fuzzy and subject to change,” Kessler gets to his point, “Medhat Abbas, the Gaza Health Ministry’s director general, said in an interview that he was so disturbed by Biden’s comment that he ordered his staff to release a 212-page document with the name of every victim identified so far — including age, sex and identity number. The list included almost 7,000 names.”

Kessler is citing the Gaza Health Ministry to defend the honor of the Gaza Health Ministry, but he also adds “With any numbers, there are caveats. Questions have also been raised about the ministry’s statistics after a still-murky incident at the al-Ahli Hospital was said to have killed nearly 500 people.”

Still using Abbas as an authoritative source, Kessler adds “Abbas said the ministry primarily relies on death certificates from hospitals and morgues in compiling its daily counts of the number of dead in the conflict, which is then collected in a computerized system.”

After going through some statistics, Kessler also notes, “In its death counts, the ministry makes no distinction between the deaths of civilians and combatants. Neither does it list whether a person was killed because a Palestinian rocket aimed at Israel fell short of its target and crashed into a populated area of Gaza. The ministry only lists aggregate totals.”

Kessler later flashes back to 2014, again seeking to give the Gaza Health Ministry and United Nations credibility, “Whatever the percentage of combatants, there was little disagreement about the number of Palestinians killed in the 2014 war. The Gaza Health Ministry said 2,310, [U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] said 2,251, and Israel’s foreign ministry said 2,125.”

Earlier, Kessler noted that OCHA and the Israeli organization The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center differed greatly on the percentages of combatant and noncombatant deaths, which makes “whatever the percentage of combatants” an unfortunate and way too casual dismissal of the issue at stake. Israel is accused by the worst people of all sorts of heinous crimes because they repeat casualty numbers that deliberately do not separate the two.

Additionally, that report from the foreign ministry came out several months after the 2014 war which only goes to show how the initial casualty reports should be treated with extreme skepticism

Inexplicably, Kessler understands this, “the very first reports in Arabic that were attributed to a health ministry spokesman referred to 500 ‘victims,’ using an Arabic word suggesting casualties, which could include those injured. Confusingly, another post referred to ‘500 victims falling,’ which could mean dead. At almost the same time, Al Jazeera quoted a Gaza civil defense spokesman as saying 300 people were killed, also suggesting the death toll was not as high as 500.”

European intelligence put the number closer to 50, which would be a 90 percent reduction from initial reports.

The entire article seemed to suggest that those who doubt Palestinian casualty estimates are right to do so because they do not differentiate between civilian and combatant and because the initial numbers change. However, Kessler simply could not bring himself to make that conclusion, “The president could have noted that, based on previous Israel-Hamas wars, about one-third of deaths were likely to be combatants. But he swept away all the numbers as not credible. That’s his opinion — but it’s remarkably uninformed by history and precedent.”