This could be the devastating proof that Hamas is faking its death figures


One of the marks of anti-Semitism, George Orwell observed in 1945, is “an ability to believe stories that could not possibly be true”. Which brings us smartly to Hamas and how the broadcast media, aid organisations, international bodies and world leaders take its disinformation as gospel. Last week it became clear that this gullibility may have led to a crime against reality.

A new analysis of the group’s casualty statistics indicates that the rag-tag terror army may have pulled off one of the biggest propaganda coups of modern times. The figures, repeated by everyone from the White House to the BBC, are freighted with familiarity: 30,000 dead in Gaza, 70 per cent of whom are women and children. Yet it now seems overwhelmingly likely that these statistics are fabricated.

Professor Abraham Wyner, a data scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, has conducted a thorough analysis. He found that Hamas’s official civilian death toll was statistically impossible. “Most likely, the Hamas ministry settled on a daily total arbitrarily,” he wrote in an incendiary essay in Tablet. “We know this because the daily totals increase too consistently to be real. Then they assigned about 70 per cent of the total to be women and children, splitting that amount randomly from day to day. Then they in-filled the number of men as set by the predetermined total. This explains all the data observed.”

The giveaways were many. For example, the reported death toll mounted “with almost metronomical linearity”, Prof Wyner found, showing little daily variation. Obviously, this bore no resemblance to any plausible version of reality. Then there was the fact that, according to Hamas data from 29 October, 26 men came back to life; and the fact that on several days, no men were apparently killed at all, but only women. Were we really supposed to believe any of this?

In February, Hamas admitted to losing 6,000 of its fighters, representing more than 20 per cent of the total casualties reported. Given its claims that 70 per cent of the dead were women and children, there were two possible conclusions: either almost no male civilians had died, or almost all the men in Gaza were fighting for Hamas. Both were obviously absurd.

Therefore, the number of women and children killed was likely grossly exaggerated. If that is the case – if, as Prof Wyner suggests, “the casualties are not overwhelmingly women and children, and the majority may be Hamas fighters” – where does that leave western outrage? Has the West fallen victim to a monstrous con?

The true ratio of civilian casualties to combatants is likely to be exceptionally low, “at most 1.4 to 1 and perhaps as low as 1 to 1”. This, Prof Wyner says, is a “successful effort to prevent unnecessary loss of life while fighting an implacable enemy that protects itself with civilians”.

By rights, if the central pillar of the anti-Israel edifice has been discredited, the whole structure should come tumbling down. But don’t hold your breath. The reason why Hamas’s dodgy data is so easily believed is confirmation bias. The drip-drip of Israelophobic propaganda over the years has created a powerful tendency to view the Jewish state, Britain’s democratic ally, as a colonialist aggressor and the Palestinians – even as they butcher children – as the “freedom fighters”. Regardless of the evidence, to many people this has become second nature.

It speaks of millennia of inherited anti-Semitism. A 2012 study by economists Nico Voigtländer and Hans-Joachim Voth found that Germans from towns where Jews were blamed for the Black Death and burnt alive in the 14th century were significantly more likely to vote for the Nazis 600 years later. In his 1945 essay, Orwell recalls a “young intellectual, communist or near-communist” remarking: “No, I do not like Jews. I’ve never made any secret of that. I can’t stick them. Mind you, I’m not anti-Semitic, of course.” Depressingly little has changed.

That is the advantage enjoyed by the jihadis of Gaza. They didn’t even need to keep their strategy a secret. Everyone knows they try to get civilians killed for propaganda gains, aiming to curtail Israeli operations with international outrage. Everyone knows that their censors keep dead terrorists away from the cameras, giving the world the impression that Israel is only attacking civilians (look up former AP reporter Matti Friedman’s seminal 2014 essay, “What the media gets wrong about Israel”, for a sense of how long such games have been played). A gang that murdered and mutilated babies may also, on occasion, be tempted to lie. So much should be obvious. But all this is smoothly eclipsed when a greater narrative is at work.

It’s not that there is a lack of journalistic curiosity in large parts of the media. It’s just that, when it comes to Israel, facts are subordinated to assumptions. In February, BBC Verify quoted a World Health Organisation official: The [Hamas] ministry has “‘good capacity in data collection’ and its previous reporting has been credible and ‘well developed’”. This was the same WHO that had singled out Israel for condemnation at an international assembly largely devoted to Covid. And this was the same BBC Verify that had partly based a story on an eyewitness who had reportedly worked for an Iranian state news outlet and celebrated the deaths of Jews on social media.

It is time for us to say: J’Accuse. Just as Emile Zola laid the charge of anti-Semitism at the feet of the French establishment during the Dreyfus Affair in 1898, we must do so to the international establishment today.


Jake Wallis Simons is editor of the Jewish Chronicle and author of ‘Israelophobia’

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