Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler chastised President Joe Biden over his “excessive skepticism” of the death toll reported by the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza.
Biden publicly disputed the civilian casualty numbers being reported by the Health Ministry last week, telling reporters “I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed. I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s the price of waging a war,”
“I think we should be incredibly careful. I think — well, not ‘we’— the Israelis should be incredibly careful to be sure that they’re focusing on going after the folks that are propagating this war against Israel. And it’s against their interest when that doesn’t happen,” he continued. “But I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.”
Kessler characterized Biden’s comments as “striking” and “uninformed by history and precedent.”
To make his case, Kessler explained how the Health Ministry compiles its numbers. He noted that “the State Department has regularly cited ministry statistics without caveats in its annual human rights reports. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which tracks deaths in the conflict, has found the ministry’s numbers to be reliable after conducting its own investigation.”
What’s more, Kessler argued there is little reason historically to doubt the Health Ministry’s numbers. In past conflicts like the 2014 war in Gaza, Kessler found they matched up with the conclusions eventually reached by Israel’s foreign ministry and OCHA.
Kessler also spoke with the Ministry’s director general, who said it “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.”
Notably, Kessler also found the Ministry does not distinguish between members of Hamas and other combatants and noted that during the 2014 war, men between the ages of 20 and 29, who are most likely to be combatants, were the most overrepresented in the death toll.
Kessler concluded that Biden showed “excessive skepticism” to the numbers put out by the Health Ministry, and that his dismissal of the numbers as entirely non-credible is “remarkably uninformed by history and precedent.”