Western Media Fails Gaza Again

New York Times claimed in its story that Hamas fighters raped an Israeli woman, Gal Abdush, in October 2023. However, the woman's family members have refuted these claims and said that they were interviewed under false pretences

A woman reads a newspaper in Jerusalem, on December 1, 2023.

Hamas beheading babies, confiscating humanitarian aid of Palestinians and the latest of such claims – that Hamas fighters engaged in systematic rape and sexual violence against Israeli women – are often used to dehumanise all Palestinians and justify the ongoing war on them that has taken more than 21,000 lives. 

None of the aforementioned claims have been proven so far but western media outlets often begin their coverage with these narratives, without referring to the larger historical context of Israel’s oppression of Palestine for decades – and without checking the veracity of the claims. The latest case in point is the New York Times “investigative” report published on December 28, on gender-based violence allegedly committed by Hamas fighters during the October 7 attack. 

The newspaper says that the story was based on over 150 interviews conducted by its journalists. Centred primarily on the rape of “Gal Abdush,” who is described by the Times as “The Woman in the Black Dress,” the story comes to a conclusion that Hamas fighters engaged in systematic rape and sexual violence against Israeli women. But barely few days after it was published, Abdush’s family members gave multiple interviews, stating that there is no proof that their daughter Gal Abdush was raped and that the Times interviewed them under false pretences.

What NYT claimed

A portrait family picture – without Gal Abdush – appeared on the front page of the cover of the newspaper. The story claimed that the family “feared that she might have been raped” after a purported video of Abdush’s body went ‘viral’. “The videos caught the eye of Israeli officials as well — very quickly after Oct. 7 they began gathering evidence of atrocities. They included footage of Ms. Abdush’s body in a presentation made to foreign governments and media organizations, using Ms. Abdush as a representation of violence committed against women that day,” the NYT report claimed.

But soon after, Abdush’s mother Etti Brakha, said in an interview with Israeli website ‘YNET’, that the family knew nothing about the sexual assault claims until the piece in the Times was published. 

Abdush’s sisters too have taken to social media to refute allegations of rape. In a comment on an Instagram post by Yoseph Haddad, an Arab-Israeli advocacy activist, Miral Alter (a family member) stated that while they had agreed to the story about Gal Abdush and her husband (who also died during the war), they would not have consented had they known the headline would involve rape. She explicitly denied the rape allegations, stating, "There is no proof that there was rape". The comment has since then been deleted. But many social media users have shared the screenshots on X.

New York Times amasses a readership of 9.41 million digital-only subscribers and 670,000 print subscribers as of 2023. At a time when Israel has imposed a total blockade on Gaza, is preventing foreign journalists from entering the region and has cut off all sorts of communication to the rest of the world, readers have a limited pool of sources from which they consume news. And hence, how millions of people around the world are consuming information about the ongoing war is fundamentally broken right from the point of delivery of the message.

Why then would the United States President Joe Biden condemn Hamas militants for beheading babies – when subsequent fact-checking websites have since then proved that nothing of that sort had happened. (Not long after Biden’s speech, the White House said in a statement that it had not confirmed the veracity of the reports.)

However, despite the lack of evidence, the allegations were reported by The Independent, CNN, Fox News and the New York Post.

Western media’s coverage of war

Such skewed coverage of war, however, is not new. 

Almost 70 years ago, in his essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell observed how governments manipulate public opinion by describing violent, inhumane policies in imprecise, euphemistic terms. “Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them,” wrote Orwell. 

While trying to give voices to Palestinians, Outlook has also looked at western media’s coverage of the ongoing war on Gaza. Israel has been bombing Gaza for over 80 days now (in the recent escalation of war) but for several go-to Western media houses, people in Palestine ‘died’ and people in Israel were ‘killed’. 

Consider these two headlines: "Palestinian militants stage attack on Israel," “Caught off guard, Israel fights back”. They appeared on the front page of Times in October 2023. It is implied that Palestinians are expected to condemn themselves and that Israel is acting within its rights of ‘self-defence’.

According to international law, Israel has, for decades, occupied the West Bank and Gaza and imposed a suffocating siege on the latter since 2007. Amnesty International has previously pointed out that there is “damning evidence of war crimes as Israeli attacks wipe out entire families in Gaza”. But for Western media, history apparently only began on October 7.