BBC’s new “Head of Statistics” twists casualty figures to whitewash Gaza massacre

A Palestinian boy holds what’s left of a television amidst the rubble of a destroyed house in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, on 11 September.

Abed Rahim Khatib APA images

An open letter to the BBC’s Director General, written by Palestine solidarity activists, is calling for the removal of BBC journalist Anthony Reuben from all reporting on Palestine following the publication of an online article in which he attempts to sanitize Israel’s killing in Gaza.

Reuben is the BBC’s “Head of Statistics,” a role created in February, he claims in his Linkedin profile, specifically for him.

Writing as “Head of Statistics” in August, Reuben authored an article for the BBC website headlined “Caution needed with Gaza casualty figures.

When he wrote the article, 1,948 Palestinians had been killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza, the majority of them men.

Reuben uses the fact that more men than women had been killed as an opportunity to argue that Israel was carrying out targeted attacks, aimed only at fighting men, and wasn’t pursuing the wholesale slaughter of civilians and the wanton destruction of homes and infrastructure.

He writes: “If the Israeli attacks had been ‘indiscriminate,’ as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.”

BBC gives credence to Israeli claims

It is an incredibly twisted use of statistics in an attempt to spin a story so it backs up the claims of the Israeli government, claims which were being visibly destroyed on television screens and social media on a daily basis.

So why did a supposedly impartial BBC journalist feel the need to try and give credence to those claims?

The answer may lie in Reuben’s journalistic background. His Linkedin profile shows that he completed an internship at The Jerusalem Post, a notoriously right-wing Israeli newspaper which is vocal in its support of Israel’s occupation.

In the open letter to the BBC’s director general, Palestine Solidarity Campaign writes: “The views which are apparent in that Israeli newspaper appear to have seeped into Reuben’s reporting for the BBC. What is more, his writing for the BBC has been quoted approvingly in other right-wing Israeli press, including Times of Israel and Ynet.”

The letter, which is now available on PSC’s website for the public to sign, and will be delivered on 29 September, adds: “We therefore call on the BBC to assure its audiences that Reuben will no longer be assigned to reporting on Palestine and Israel, as his impartiality and journalistic integrity on this subject cannot be guaranteed.”

“Appalling journalism”

In the meantime, Reuben continues to write about Gaza for the publicly funded broadcaster. This month, he contributed to an online article titled “Gaza crisis: toll of operations in Gaza,” and links to the one he wrote in August.

This is despite the fact that the August article was condemned by Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, as “an appalling piece of journalism.” Gunness was quoted in the British print magazine Private Eye. The article, in the “Media News” section, is not available online.

UNRWA complained to the BBC about Reuben’s twisted interpretation of the death toll statistics, and his offending sentence (“If the Israeli attacks had been ‘indiscriminate,’ as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women”) was removed from the article several days later.

An attempt was also made to insert some balance into the previously one-sided piece, with comments added in from academic Jana Krause explaining that Palestinian men were more likely to be killed than women, not because they were fighters, but because they left shelters to search for food and water and to care for abandoned homes.

However, the fact remains that the BBC, with a stated commitment to balanced and accurate reporting written into its Royal Charter, was willing to publish Reuben’s article in its original form and present it to its audiences as impartial journalism.

Are children fighters too?

The BBC has foisted Israeli and pro-Israel commentators, masquerading as independent experts, on its audiences at times of full-scale Israeli attacks on Gaza.

These allegedly neutral commentators would be used in various ways. During Israel’s November 2012 assault, Guglielmo Verdirame, a professor in international law at Kings College, London, wrote an article for the BBC justifying the attack in legal terms.

Verdirame has also been used by the British-Danish security firm G4S to write a report which attempts to vindicate the company’s involvement in the Israeli prisons where Palestinians, including children, are held and tortured.

In July this year, three weeks into Israel’s most recent assault, the BBC published an article by Eado Hecht which defends Israel’s attacks by providing florid, but unsubstantiated, descriptions of tunnels in Gaza “booby-trapped with explosives.”

Readers were not informed by the BBC that Hecht is a lecturer at the Israeli military’s Command and General Staff College.

With Reuben, the BBC appears to have gone one step further, pushing onto its global audiences a supposedly independent staff journalist who may not be as impartial as he should be.

Reuben could have crunched the tragic statistics on Palestinian children killed by Israel in Gaza — 456 dead when his article was published on 8 August — in order to come to a more realistic conclusion on whether Israel’s attacks were indiscriminate or targeted solely at fighters. But he chose not to.

More children were killed than women — 237 women had been killed at that stage. What conclusions would the BBC’s “Head of Statistics” draw from that figure? That the children, like the men who were also killed in greater numbers than the women, were fighters too?

Large portions of Gaza were decimated by Israel during July and August, reduced to rubble. Towns were flattened, entire families wiped out, water sources destroyed and UN shelters bombed at night.

And during all this, Anthony Reuben, a BBC journalist, used his position to try and spin the story that Israel was doing its best to wage a limited war. And the BBC let him.

There are, the saying goes, lies, damned lies and statistics. And there is also Anthony Reuben and the BBC. When it comes to reporting on Palestine, beware of them both.




the reason more men are killed is because men are more likely to be outside trying to get any meager supplies for their families while women are hiding at home with the children.


BBC misreporting, lack of balance and partiallity is shocking ans sickening.


You can download a more balanced discussion of Gaza casualty statistics from the BBC 'More or Less' programme here:
'More or Less' uses professional independent statisticians to analyse published figures on a wide range of subjects and to interpret them as fairly as possible. Their take on Gaza is much closer to that of UNRWA than to Reuben's.


The BBC is a flagrantly dishonest, right wing, elitist organisation. The likelihood that any journalist carrying out a mission on behalf of those values will be disciplined for doing so is vanishingly small. That being said, it's still important to register disapproval, to let them know they have a fight on their hands. Public protest of this kind can help persuade others of the nature of this disinformation machine. A good source for analysis and criticism of the BBC, the Guardian, and other putatively liberal news organisations, is Medialens.


Much of the publicity on Gaza has focused naturally on the numbers of people killed directly by Israeli fire. Perhaps it might be more telling to ask why Israel targeted water treatment and sewage works. Of course they could argue that they were "near" Hamas launch sites but, given the size of Gaza, that is true of any site. The same excuse was used in targeting the UN school. More likely is a longer-term aim to introduce infection and disease, adding further to the civilian death toll without increasing the official statistics, however they are twisted. I know that the Israeli government has partially lifted the blockade to allow some construction materials into Gaza (and "allowing" Palestinians to fish in the now-polluted coastal waters), but given the scale of the destruction, unless the blockade is completely lifted and a massive programme of infrastructure repair begun, I fear that a second catastrophic phase of Operation Protective Edge will begin all too soon. I wonder how that will be reported by the BBC?


In the two Reuben articles linked (August 11, September 1), the same wrong graph appears. His "Timeline of attacks" compares two numbers: "Rockets fired from Gaza" versus "Gaza targets hit by Israel". But 'Rockets fired' is not the same as 'Targets hit'.

It would be more to the point to compare 'Israeli targets hit' vs. 'Gaza targets hit' (by the way, that would be near zero in Israel and thousands in Gaza). Or, conversely, compare 'Rockets (& other bombs) fired at Israel' vs. 'Rockets (& other bombs) fired at Gaza'. That could be about 2500 to 50,000 (?).

Reuben did not notice that the numbers he showed twice are incomparable, while the correct approach is easy to conceive. He is Head of Statistics. Another professional error is that Reuben reproduced numbers from one source only. The IDF.


Reminds me of Obama's criteria for deciding whether drone victims are civilians or not: if they're male and of fighting age, they count as terrorists, not civilians.

Likewise, in Gaza, you counted as a Hamas combatant even if you were driving an ambulance or doing other kinds of relief work, like trying to dig people out of the rubble, when you got blown to bits. But surely Mr. Reuben backed out all of those casualties from the death counts before he arrived at his conclusion?

No? Reuben's logic is asinine.

OHCA Israeli-Palestinian Fatalities Since 2000 - Key Trends (2007) [1]:

"The overwhelming majority of those killed have been men: for Israelis, including IDF personnel, 69% were men, for Palestinians 94% were men. 4/ Children reflect these gender ratios: 87% of Palestinian children killed, for example, were boys and 13% were girls."

Reuben said: "If the Israeli attacks had been ‘indiscriminate,’ as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.”

By Reuben's same logic, nearly all of the male Palestinian children killed between 2000 and 2007 would have been combatants too.

But in an independent study[2] using the same data set used by OHCA, one conclusion was "Comparison of actors' DWIs shows significantly higher discrimination of female from male targets by Israeli security forces and by Palestinian actors when targeting Palestinians, and lower discrimination of female from male targets when Palestinian actors target Israeli civilians (chi-square = 833, df = 2, p < 0.001)."

Or put more simply, Israelis have a history of killing male Palestinian civilians preferentially to female Palestinian civilians. Don't ask me why because I don't know. But it's there in the statistics.




It never ceases to astound these people not have a conscience? do they really not see the injustices and atrocities being meted to the Palestinian people on a day to day...moment to moment basis...Palestinian people have rights, needs, wants, like everybody on the face of this planet... biased people will reap what you sow...may GOD open your eyes and your hearts.


Looking as his Linkedin profile, Reuben appears to have no statistical qualifications, and was appointed without competition. Just A level Maths. A "Head of Statistics" who's not a statistician - giving an undeserved weight to his article. He doesn't appear to have any journalistic qualifications either. His whole journalistic career appears to stem from having been an intern at the Jerusalem post while doing a non-journalistic degree. Clearly pertinent given the article's subject. Why weren't both these two facts declared?

His original article was a straight parrot of what Israeli bloggers were arguing. It was identical. That is before he removed the pivotal phrase, in an at first silent edit, that he later called a "clarification".

He parrots the IDF spokesman in talking about "only 50 fighters"? In what other context do people use the word "only" for people who've been killed? We are not counting beans.

He didn't challenge the IDF claims? Even though that 50 figure was actually not what Hamas said. The BBC's own website says it was 120 (48 was the figure for Hamas dead). No evidence is given by Reuben to support the IDF claim that Hamas later gave different figures - but he effectively endorses it.

There was no attempt to define who counts as a combatant or "indiscriminate". In the original article he couldn't provide a single explanation why figures of young males might be higher - though there are obvious ones like ambulance crew.

He didn't allow comments at the bottom of the article.

He didn't look at Israeli deaths and apply the same "indiscriminate" or not approach to them. He looked at deaths, not total casualties - just like the bloggers of course. The Israelis include in casualties people who suffer emotional shock. By that measure Gazan casualties might run into hundreds of thousands.

And he gave no comparative context for figures. Eg in WW1 40% civilian casualties. WW2 (with carpet bombing and gas chambers) 60%.

Amena Saleem

Amena Saleem's picture

Amena Saleem is a journalist and activist. She has twice driven on convoys to Gaza and spent seven years working for Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK.