Did UN Halve Gaza Death Toll?

Israel’s planned invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah will almost undoubtedly increase the death toll of the Israel-Hamas war that has led to tens of thousands of people killed.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has strongly backed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration in its campaign against Hamas, sparked by the militant group’s October 7 attack that killed 1,200 people in southern Israel. Meanwhile, more than 34,000 Palestinians have died in Israel’s retaliatory response.

The rising death toll has led to international calls for a ceasefire. Ahead of the planned Rafah invasion, the Biden administration has paused the delivery of about 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and another 1,700 500-pound bombs to Israeli.

Amid this, figures surrounding the war’s impact were called into question this week as claims suggested that the United Nations had lowered the death toll in Gaza by half, sending social media ablaze.

People gather as volunteers try to rescue survivors and recover the bodies of victims from beneath the rubble of a collapsed building in the aftermath of Israeli bombardment in Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip…

AFP/Getty Images

The Claim

A post on X, formerly Twitter, by journalist Eve Barlow, posted on May 13, 2024, viewed 209,100 times, said: “So the UN is walking back the death toll in Gaza by half. By half. 50 per cent.

“It will not make mainstream news. It will not be uttered by people for seven months until everyone considers it as fact. It will not be reported with sensationalist images or provocative language. It will pass people by.

“We live in an age of zero accountability and moral impunity. We live in an age where everyone has wrapped their identity up with righteousness, moral superiority, and having to be correct. Nobody can admit they were wrong in front of an audience. Everybody is frightened of the consequences of appearing to have made a mistake. Whenever someone like me presents a different argument or adds comment to a one-sided debate it is viewed as a personal attack on the speaker’s character and worth.

“There is no room for dialogue, for asking questions, for correcting mistakes, for growth. We live in a world of fragile egos, self-aggrandized ignorance and dangerous misinformation.

“I am more terrified of ordinary people than I am of the terrorist organizations who are using them as pawns.”

The Facts

On May 8, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released figures on the number of reported Palestinian fatalities, noting that there were 34,844 reported, of which 24,686 had been identified as of April 30.

A similar release on May 6 included only the reported fatalities. That release, sourced from the Government Media Office in Gaza, said that 9,500 women and 14,500 children had been killed.

In the May 8 release, the number of identified women and children casualties was 4,959 and 7,797, respectively. This was interpreted to mean that the U.N. had halved its estimates.

However, at a press conference on Monday, U.N. spokesperson Faran Haq said there had been no change in the overall number of fatalities but that new information had been shared about the number of deaths that had been formally and fully identified.

“The overall number of fatalities that’s been tallied by the Ministry of Health in Gaza, which is our counterpart on dealing with the death tolls, that number remains unchanged and it’s at more than 35,000 people since October 7,” Haq said.

“What’s changed is the Ministry of Health in Gaza has updated the breakdown of
fatalities for whom full details have been documented

“So what they recently published was that they gave figures for 24,686 out of 34,622 overall fatalities recorded in Gaza, and those 24,686 people are the ones for whom full details have been documented. In other words, people who have been fully identified

“Out of those, then out of that smaller number, that subset of identified bodies, you have 7,797 children, 4,959 women, 1,924 elderly and 10,006 men.

“And the Ministry of Health says that the documentation process of fully identifying details of the casualties is ongoing.

“Meanwhile, as you can see, if you do the math, that 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.”

Haq added that U.N. teams in Gaza have been unable to independently verify the figures given the continuing conflict. When asked if the U.N. had any reason to believe the Ministry of Health’s figures were incorrect, Haq said it had proved to be “generally accurate” calculating figures from mass casualty incidents in the past.

The Ruling



The number of deaths in Gaza reported by the U.N. has not been halved.

New figures, that broke down the number of fully identified and documented deaths, were published by the U.N. on May 8 along with the number of reported fatalities from the Ministry of Health in Gaza, whose figures the U.N. says are proven to be “generally accurate.”

The smaller number of fully identified deaths was thought by some to mean the total figure had been revised, in some cases by half, which the U.N. has denied and clarified.

FACT CHECK BY Newsweek’s Fact Check team