Misleading graph on civilian airstrike deaths in Gaza doesn’t use comparable data

8 March 2024
What was claimed

A graph shows there were significantly fewer civilian deaths per airstrike in Gaza in 2023 than in previous conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

Our verdict

This is misleading because the data used in the graph is not comparable. The charity behind some of the figures estimates the number of civilian deaths per injurious airstrike in Gaza in October 2023 was actually much closer to the rates quoted for other conflicts, though it’s unclear how reliable any such comparisons are.

A misleading graph that uses non-comparable data to suggest the number of civilian deaths per airstrike in Gaza in 2023 was significantly lower than other conflicts is circulating online. 

One post sharing the graph says: “This is one of the most important graphs of the entire war. Israel is doing everything it can to prevent civilians deaths [sic].” Another says: “Breaking: Even according to Hamas’ reported number of civilian casualties, civilian deaths per airstrike by Israel is the lowest in the 21st century.” 

However, the graph is misleading. It features an unsourced figure for the number of deaths per airstrike in Gaza that was not calculated using the same method as the other figures on the graph.  While we don’t know for sure where the graph originated, it has been shared widely across social media platforms, including Facebook, X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram.

Full Fact has seen many false or misleading claims relating to the war in Gaza, including miscaptioned videos and images that actually show events in other places or at different times, as well as fake news articles, edited official documents and footage with mistranslated subtitles

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What does the graph show?

The graph is titled “Civilian deaths per airstrike in 21st-century global conflicts” and supposedly compares this figure for Gaza in 2023 with Raqqa in 2017, and Aleppo in 2016 (both in Syria), Mosul in Iraq in 2017, and a “global average” between 2013 and 2022.  

It claims 0.8 civilians were killed per airstrike in Gaza compared with 11.95 in Raqqa, 21.7 in Aleppo, 17.1 in Mosul, and 4.5 as the global average. 

It also says the 0.8 figure for Gaza “includes Hamas combatants” and is “based on numbers from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry that counts combatants as civilians”.

The graph cites analysis from Action On Armed Violence (AOAV), a charity that “records, investigates and disseminates evidence of armed violence against civilians worldwide”. The figures for the conflicts in Iraq and Syria do seem to come from a report by the charity, as we’ll explain further.

The graph also cites the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), but an IDF spokesperson told Full Fact: “We are not familiar with the data provided.”

The data used is not comparable

As noted above, the graph’s figures for Raqqa, Aleppo and Mosul appear to come from an AOAV report published in November 2023. But the graph does not use this report’s corresponding figure for Gaza or its global average figure. 

The graph includes no explanation of how the 0.8 figure for Gaza was calculated, and Full Fact has not been able to replicate it. 

However, using the same methodology for recording deaths and airstrikes as for Raqqa, Aleppo and Mosul, the AOAV report estimates there were 10.1 civilian deaths per casualty-causing airstrike in Gaza during October 2023 (the first month of the conflict). This is clearly much closer to the figures for the other conflicts, albeit still lower, and according to AOAV is higher than previous Israeli operations in Gaza in 2012, 2014 and 2021.

Similarly, the AOAV reports that the global average for casualty-causing airstrikes in conflict zones between 2013 and 2022 was 7.2 civilian deaths. It is not clear where the graph’s 4.5 global average figure comes from. 

It’s important to note that casualty figures in war zones are often disputed, and very hard to reliably confirm. We have not attempted to directly verify casualty figures for the purposes of this fact check. 

The AOAV also notes that its data is “not intended to capture all harm and is not indicative of total numbers killed or injured”. 

Reports of ‘casualty-causing airstrikes’

The methodology used by the AOAV involves analysing “reliable English-language media reports” of civilian deaths in casualty-causing air strikes. It says a media report that does not list specific casualty tolls or locations would not be recorded. 

The AOAV data in the report does not include all airstrikes—it specifically records the deaths from reported-on airstrikes that caused injuries. This means the data does not show civilian deaths per total number of airstrikes, as claimed in the graph’s headline.

The executive director of AOAV, Iain Overton, told Full Fact its data on civilian deaths according to this method is in line with the figure for the loss of women and children, as identified by their Israeli issue ID, given by the Ministry of Health in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas. We have not fact checked this figure.

Commenting on the graph, the AOAV reported that even when all reported-on airstrikes were recorded, including those that did not reportedly cause casualties, the figure for Gaza would be 9.4. 

Although the graph doesn’t give a methodology or source for the 0.8 figure, the AOAV suggested it could represent the total number of civilian deaths divided by the total number of bombs dropped by the IDF in Gaza, rather than specifically airstrikes that were reported on or that caused casualties. 

Mr Overton told Full Fact that the graph is “faulty” because “the merging of these two methodologies massively distorted the figures”. 

He said: “As our data [for October 2023] shows, IDF attacks in the current Gaza conflict are at least four times more lethal per recorded strike than previous IDF incursions to Gaza, and are of a similar lethality to what we recorded in the devastation of Raqqa.”

Moreover, the AOAV also notes that the figures for Aleppo, Mosul and Raqqa are based on “the most injurious month to civilians from airstrikes” and are not the averages across the whole year, as the graph might suggest. The data for Gaza is solely based on the first month of the conflict in October 2023. 

It’s unclear how reliable any such comparisons are though, given the figures rely on reports of air strikes—reporting may not be the same for all conflicts. 

Misleading claims can spread quickly during international crises and it’s important to consider whether something shows what it claims to before sharing it on social media. You can find more of our work on the Israel-Gaza conflict here

Image courtesy of Wafa

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