One official noted that the Palestinian health ministry’s death counts may even be an undercount.
President Joe Biden cast doubt this week on the Palestinian health ministry’s death count in Israel’s current genocidal campaign against Palestinians — but Biden’s own administration officials rely on those same death counts for their reports, and have even said in one instance that the ministry’s count may be too low.
According to a review by HuffPost of nearly 20 “situation reports” from the State Department, which represent the U.S.’s assessments on the ground and are intended to inform policy decisions, officials have often cited casualties reported by the health ministry in Gaza. In these reports, which date back to October 8, the day after Hamas’s initial attack on Israel, the ministry’s counts are cited at least 12 times, the analysis found.
In one instance, in an October 21 report, an official said that the Gaza ministry’s numbers may actually be an undercount of the death toll. “The numbers are likely much higher, according to the UN and NGOs reporting on the situation,” the official reportedly wrote.
The ministry’s death counts were also included in a report provided on October 25, just hours before Biden would say that he has “no confidence” in those same death counts in a press conference on the White House lawn.
“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,” Biden said. “I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.”
Biden’s remark sparked outrage from advocates and experts, who have said that the health ministry’s death counts have historically been reliable and are cited by many international organizations, including the UN. The State Department has also cited these figures prior to this month’s violence.
“Everyone uses the figures from the Gaza Health Ministry because those are generally proven to be reliable,” Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Post. “In the times in which we have done our own verification of numbers for particular strikes, I’m not aware of any time which there’s been some major discrepancy.”
Advocates add that questioning the death tolls — especially in such a public manner — only furthers Zionist propaganda and serves to justify and perpetuate the genocide.
“Questioning death tolls directly dehumanizes Palestinians. It’s a key part of genocide denial. Israel is murdering Palestinians. By minimizing this, the U.S. is laying the groundwork for more death,” Jewish anti-Zionist group IfNotNow wrote on social media. “Internally, Biden administration officials regularly cite the Gaza Ministry of Health. Yet Biden and White House spokespeople are publicly questioning these figures in an attempt to remove their own responsibility for funding death and destruction.”
After Biden’s comments on Wednesday, the Gazan health ministry released a list of the names of thousands of Palestinians who have been killed by Israel’s genocidal siege in the past three weeks.
According to the health ministry, the Israeli military has killed at least 7,326 Palestinians since it began its current bombing campaign in Gaza. Since Israel declared war on Palestinians on October 7, Israeli settlers and the Israeli military have killed at least 90 Palestinians in the West Bank, and Israel has more than doubled the number of Palestinians in the West Bank being held in Israeli jails, with 10,000 Palestinian prisoners being held. The death toll will likely rise as Israeli forces prepare for a ground invasion into Gaza in the coming days.
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