Did the UN really say Israel has killed fewer people in Gaza? (2024)

Has the UN really said fewer people were killed by Israel in Gaza?

No, is the short answer.

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The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) published on May 8 an infographic that referred to a figure of 34,844 total Palestinian deaths.

Below that, it said of the deaths: “24,686 identified as of 30 April as: 10,006 men, 4,959 women, 7,797 children, 1,924 elderly”.

The graphic used the Gaza Ministry of Health (MoH) figures and included a note that figures were “Not including more than 10,000 reported missing or under the rubble”.

The figures for bodies that had been identified were seized on by many media outlets as the UN “revising down” its estimates of the number of women and children Israel had killed in its assault on Gaza.

Rather, the UN was publishing the latest information from Gaza’s MoH about its progress in a massive effort to identify the dead.

The UN confirmed this on Monday, when spokesperson Farhan Haq, responding to a question from Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, said that the updated breakdown was only in reference to the smaller 24,686 death toll.

“There’s about another 10,000 plus bodies who still have to be fully identified, and so then the details of those – which of those are children, which of those are women – that will be reestablished once the full identification process is complete,” Haq said at the UN in New York.

What was the ‘initial’ estimate?

The estimated number for the total number of people killed by Israel in Gaza and those missing under the rubble or elsewhere has never changed.

As of Tuesday, the total number stands at 35,173 people killed by Israel in Gaza since the war erupted more than seven months ago.

Eighty-two of those people were killed in the last 24 hours.

Where do the casualty numbers come from?

All casualty numbers – identified and unidentified deaths – as well as missing people are generated by the Gaza MoH.

Critics often criticise the MoH for being administered by Hamas, implying that its figures are not to be trusted.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated on Tuesday that it has full confidence in the MoH’s numbers.

MoH statistics have also been verified by Human Rights Watch and used by the United States Department of State in past conflicts and as recently as March 2023, despite US President Joe Biden questioning those numbers without evidence.

What is this ‘new number’?

The so-called “new number” of 24,686 refers only to bodies that have been identified – of those, 7,797 were children, 4,959 women and 1,924 were elderly people.

This means that more than 10,000 recovered bodies are still unidentified.

Moreover, an estimated 10,000 people remain missing, most likely buried under the rubble across Gaza.

Is that number going to change?

“The fact we now have 25,000 identified people is a step forward,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told the press in Geneva on Tuesday.

“There’s about another 10,000 plus bodies who still have to be fully identified, and so then the details of those – which of those are children, which of those are women – that will be re-established once the full identification process is complete,” UN spokesperson Haq said.

Israel has come under consistent international pressure over the death toll in Gaza.

Some media outlets seized on the number breakdown as the UN having revised its numbers to a “more realistic figure” – without clarifying – as evidence of anti-Israeli bias within the UN.

In recent days, Egypt – with whom Israel has had a truce since 1979 – has joined South Africa’s case against Israel in the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of genocide.

During an appearance on the Call Me Back podcast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to reference the change, saying the Israeli army had “been able to keep the ratio of civilians to combatants killed … [to] a ratio of about one to one”.

“Fourteen thousand have been killed, combatants,” he continued, “and probably around 16,000 civilians have been killed.”

Did the UN really say Israel has killed fewer people in Gaza? (2024)
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