Thursday, November 2, 2023:
Welcome back to another day of Sentences. Here’s the rundown for today:
UP FIRST: The death toll from Gaza, explained.
CATCH UP: Lāhainā schools are open again. Parents worry they’re ridden with toxic waste.
— Rachel DuRose, Future Perfect fellow
The death toll from Gaza, explained
Israel declared war on Hamas, one day after the Palestinian militant group conducted a brutal attack. Israel has already launched what it describes as one of its largest aerial bombardments ever on the Gaza Strip. Sameh Rahmi/NurPhoto via Getty Images
In the early days of a conflict, it can be hard to get fatality numbers right, and even harder to verify them. But early figures can give us a crucial sense of the devastating scale of loss.
The lowdown: Some (including President Joe Biden) have questioned the Gaza Health Ministry’s fatality figures at various points during the Israel-Hamas war, often due to the ministry's ties to the militant political group Hamas, which governs Gaza. Historically these numbers have been accurate, which is why news organizations (including Vox), human rights groups, and the United Nations all cite them.
Here’s why we use these numbers:
Gaza’s Ministry of Health’s figures have proved to be accurate. In conflicts in 2008, 2014, and 2021, the health ministry’s fatality numbers closely matched independent death tolls later calculated by the United Nations and humanitarian agencies.
Hamas doesn’t control the Ministry of Health the way people may think. Health ministry employees come from a mix of factions, including Hamas and the secular nationalist Fatah party, and some are independent. Hamas does not pay their salaries, nor, it claims, does it influence casualty figures.
Here’s what else to know:
After Biden questioned the accuracy of the Gaza Ministry of Health’s figures, the organization released names. On October 27, Gaza’s Ministry of Health released a list drawn from hospital records containing the names of the nearly 7,000 people who’d died in the conflict at that point.
- Lists like these are one starting place for independent organizations that will later work to verify individual deaths — a task that’s nearly impossible to do right now. At the start of a war, fatality numbers are hard to get, due to the destruction of both communication and health infrastructure.
The current toll of the Israel-Hamas war: In Israel, approximately 1,400 people have been killed and 5,400 have been injured since the conflict began, according to Israeli health officials. Nineteen soldiers have died during ground operations so far, the Israeli military said Thursday. Meanwhile, more than 9,000 people have been killed, about two-thirds of whom are women and children, and 32,000 have been injured in Gaza, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health.
The stakes: On one hand, these numbers help us get a sense of the general scale of the tragedy unfolding in a war-torn region. On the other hand, any errors or misinformation in real-time coverage — especially of individual attacks, strikes, and incidents — can often spread widely before verification can occur, giving observers a mistaken sense of what’s really going on.
“While a more precise understanding of a violent conflict’s true death toll will emerge in time, one thing is already clear: There is widespread death and suffering in Gaza as a result of the bombardment and fighting,” writes senior public health reporter Keren Landman.
Read Keren’s full story here.
If you have questions about the ongoing war, let us know here. And here’s where you can keep track of all our developing coverage.
Lāhainā schools are open again. Parents worry they’re ridden with toxic waste.
Third-grade students read a book during an English language arts class at their temporary school site in early October before campuses in Lāhainā reopened. Mengshin Lin/AP
The Hawai‛i public school system’s decision to move forward with the reopening of Lāhainā public schools — despite evidence of toxic pollutants — leaves many concerned parents at an impasse. They can send children back to school, trusting the state’s assessment of potential health risks, or they can scramble to find an alternative method of education.
In August, Maui experienced the deadliest fires in US history. Wildfires engulfed the western part of Maui, killing at least 96 people, burning more than 2,000 structures, and forcing people to flee into the ocean for safety.
In October, state officials — aided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — announced it was safe to return to Lāhainā’s school campuses, which sit on the edge of the burn zone. Yet a day before Lāhainā’s public schools were set to reopen, it was revealed that ash in a mountain town 25 miles east of Lāhainā contained arsenic levels 140 times greater than the federal safety limit.
- Many families across the district are still keeping their kids out of school. As of October 18 (the day some young students were expected to return to the classroom), “Phase 1” of the EPA cleanup — which entails removing household materials that become highly dangerous after a major fire, like damaged propane tanks, batteries, and paints — was just 75 percent complete.
- Wealthier families and those with more flexibility aren’t facing the same crisis. Hundreds of families in Lāhainā transferred their children to nearby private and charter schools, or (if they work remotely) enrolled their children in the state’s remote learning program.
You can read freelance reporter Ava Sasani’s full piece here.
🗣️ “I think one of the most effective ways to commit suicide these days in Israel is to go out on the street with a Palestinian flag.”
— peace activist Yossef Mekyton speaking to Al Jazeera following the death of his friend, Khalil Abu Yahia (a resident of Gaza and organizer of the Great March of Return), who was killed along with his whole family in an Israeli air strike [Al Jazeera]
400 American nationals were approved to leave Gaza via the Rafah border crossing. On Wednesday, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller confirmed some American citizens have already left Gaza. [CBS News]
Next week, Ohio voters will decide whether to enshrine reproductive rights in their state constitution. The amendment is the only abortion question directly on any state’s ballot this year, making Ohio a key place to watch for Democrats hoping to use abortion rights to energize voters in next year’s presidential election. [AP]
Two United Airlines flight attendants filed a lawsuit against the company for discriminating against them due to their race, age, religion, and appearance. The attendants — allege United removed them from the crews of Los Angeles Dodgers charter flights, and replaced them with attendants who were "young, white, female and predominantly blond/blue-eyed.” [NPR]
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