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Media coverage of individual Gaza strikes only capturing one third of all deaths, AOAV finds 

An analysis of English language reporting of the explosive violence in Gaza and Israel by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has revealed that media coverage may only capture a third of the actual civilian deaths from specific explosive incidents in Gaza, when compared to the total death tolls claimed by official sources.

This alarming disparity underscores the challenges in obtaining comprehensive and transparent reporting during intense conflicts, and allows doubts regarding and denials of casualty numbers to flourish.

Since 07 October 2023 and as of 31 October, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), which takes its data from reliable English-language media sources, has recorded 2,918 civilians killed by explosive weapons across four countries, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues to escalate.

To date, the BBC has reported – as a total (as opposed to specific incidents) that “the 7 October Hamas attacks… killed 1,400 people. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 8,500 people have been killed since Israel’s retaliatory bombing began.”

But these totalities are devoid of the details of specific incidents, ones that AOAV seeks to capture by monitoring English media sources.

AOAV’s data, then, is finding a considerable under-reporting of specific incidents that cause death in the war, with media reports capturing only around a third of the civilian deaths in Gaza.

In Israel, AOAV has recorded 80 civilians killed and 211 injured by explosive weapons since 07 October, in terms of specific, separate and identifiable incidents as reported by English language media. 92% (268) of civilian harm in Israel has been caused by Hamas rocket and grenade attacks, with 5% (16) of civilians harmed by Hezbollah missiles in northern Israel. Many casualties in Israel have been attributed to firearms and automatic weapons fire, and fall outside AOAV’s reporting remit.

In Lebanon, three civilians have reportedly been killed and 13 injured by Israeli air strikes and shelling, as well as 30 Hezbollah and Hamas actors (21 killed, nine injured).

In Gaza and the West Bank, AOAV has recorded 2,835 civilians killed and 1,194 injured across 309 explosive violence incidents. The majority of civilian casualties from such harm, 96% (3,860), have reportedly been attributed to Israeli air strikes.

Israel has also claimed 63 combatant deaths across Gaza and the West Bank.

Due to the chaotic and tense situation on the ground, many incidents in Gaza and the West Bank are being reported, if at all, in ways which mean AOAV cannot record the strike. Any reporting that does not list specific casualty tolls, or without specific locations, do not fit into AOAV’s methodology for capturing explosive violence data.

Furthermore, attributing injuries and deaths to specific strikes, particularly those of people recovered from the rubble of destroyed buildings, is proving very difficult due to the sheer volume of bombs being dropped in the enclave. In the first week of the war, Israel dropped more bombs on Gaza than the United States did on Afghanistan in a year. Many neighbourhoods have been bombed multiple times in the past weeks.

This makes updating death and injury tolls attributed to specific strikes virtually impossible, and means post-conflict analysis and any legal claims will be mired in difficulty.

AOAV calls on all warring parties to ensure civilians and authorities are able to safely locate, extract, and arrange for the dignified burial of the deceased, and to safely and speedily transfer injured people to medical centres, also allowing authorities to compile accurate records of deaths and injuries from specific incidents. 

AOAV stresses the importance of access to and transparency of information in times of conflict especially, as both are vital to establishing accurate casualty records. These are essential human rights tools for establishing accountability under International Humanitarian Law, and for ensuring the dignity of victims and survivors. 

The targeting of journalists and their families in Gaza, Lebanon, and Israel also actively hinders the accurate reporting of events on the ground, with the Committee to Protect Journalists recording 31 journalists killed and nine missing or detained since 07 October across Palestine, Israel, and Lebanon, as well as continuing attacks, arrests, and the killing of their family members. Furthermore, the disruption of communications due to power outages in Gaza is an unacceptable course of action which endangers the lives of civilians, and limits the ability of journalists to access and disseminate important information. 

Dr Iain Overton, CEO of AOAV, said ““The magnitude of the devastation and loss of civilian life is horrifying. Our findings indicate that explosive weapons, in just a few weeks, have affected thousands. But we also believe that our data might only reflect around a third of the civilian deaths in Gaza. Times of conflict underscore the critical need for transparent reporting and unhindered access to information, not only for accountability but to ensure the dignity of victims and survivors. Hindering journalists and disrupting communications further exacerbates an already dire situation.”

Feature photo: AFP/Jack Guez