By Nick Bythrow
Abstract: Coverage of the war in Gaza differs drastically between Western and non-Western sources, in particular the United States and the Middle East region. Popular news sources like CNN focus reporting on the plight of Israeli civilians and soldiers, while other papers emphasize Israeli deaths over Palestinian suffering. These sources frame the war through the lens of Hamas’ October 7 attack, morphing it into the catalyst for conflict in the region. Non-Western, less mainstream news outlets acknowledge the decades of history in the Gaza region, putting emphasis on Israel’s historical oppression of Palestine. Middle Eastern sources frame the current war through a historical lens, utilizing language and reports sympathetic to Palestine. The opposing viewpoints of Western and non-Western reports are further emphasized by how Hamas is framed. Media in the West employs them with a terroristic association, while non-Western sources paint them as freedom fighters. The opposing ways in which regional sources report on the war reveal the battle is not just happening physically, but within the information the public receives as well.
On the morning of Friday, December 1 ceasefires between Israel and Hamas came to a close, and war returned across the Gaza Strip. Within hours, Israel began bombarding the region with air strikes in the south, adding more Palestinian bodies to the 15,000 already killed since early October. However, despite the devastation Israel’s aggressive response has led to, some mainstream Western media organizations issued reports that skewed the end of the ceasefire into pro-Israel rhetoric. The UK’s The Telegraph highlighted a statement from United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken blaming Hamas attacks during the ceasefire for Israel’s quick resumption. Western outlets have also mostly focused on the Biden administration’s responses to ongoing events, turning the United States into an overseas protagonist. This results in coverage that considers contemporary events as most relevant to the ongoing conflict. Meanwhile, non-Western outlets like Egypt’s Mada Masr have been reflecting on Israel’s historical subjugation of Palestine and its relation to the current war. While Western journalists highlight the war's events as stemming from Hamas’ devastating October 7 attack, non-Western media exhibit the full extent of Gaza’s history–in particular, Israeli efforts to damage Palestinian lives through decades of oppression.
The major comparisons made in this article will be between US-based Western media sources and three non-Western, Middle Eastern outlets. Focal outlets for Western countries include CNN and The New York Times among others, analyzed because of their popularity in the United States. Their reports are also particularly reflective of other mentioned Western sources, indicating a uniform perspective. Middle Eastern outlets include Turkey’s Anadolu Agency (AA) and Iran’s Tehran Times, two mainstream sources within both countries reporting for their respective nations. This analysis will also include Egypt’s Mada Masr, who have suffered issues in their reporting due to the Egyptian government and can provide a unique perspective on the conflict. The Rio Times from Brazil is also presented to offer a non-Western, non-Middle Eastern source to underscore how regions with vested interests in the conflict display concrete lenses compared to those without.
Perspectives on War
Mainstream Western media typically frames coverage of Gaza’s war through the lens of Hamas’ October 7 attack. A glance at CNN’s live coverage pages for the war reveal an Israeli lens in much of their reporting. Their coverage page for December 3, 2023 includes multiple headlines highlighting the war from Israel’s perspective. “Several Israeli soldiers lightly injured in a missile attack on northern Israel.” “IDF says two more soldiers killed in Gaza offensive.” “Israel will continue ground operations in Gaza until all goals are met, Netanyahu says.” CNN has reported on some stories relevant to Palestinian suffering, such as their December 1, 2023 coverage page highlighting the 54 Palestinian journalists killed between then and the start of the war. However, even this page contains Israeli-centric stories, like highlighting the personal lives of hostages kidnapped by Hamas, including particular focus on three killed that day.
Beyond CNN, analysis of other Western outlets reveal a skew in reporting Israeli deaths in the war as opposed to Palestinian deaths. University of California, Berkeley graduate student Holly Jackson has composed a live document monitoring the number of casualties in Gaza since October 7 and how often these deaths are mentioned in mainstream news outlets. The main page contains graphs comparing how many times Israeli and Palestinian deaths were mentioned by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal between October 7 and 22, 2023. A fourth graph also records cumulative deaths between both groups in that time frame. Israeli deaths stood at close to 1,500 while Palestinian deaths topped 4,000 by October 22. However, all three newspapers disproportionately mentioned Israeli deaths more than Palestinian deaths compared to the number of people who died. In some instances, such as The Washington Post on October 13 and October 22, Israeli and Palestinian deaths were mentioned the same number of times despite the higher number of Palestinian deaths on those days.
CNN’s reporting and Jackson’s research on prominent news sites present a Western perspective skewed toward Israeli victimization through the lens of Hamas’ attack. It’s important to note that reporting on Israel’s losses in the Gaza war is critical to understanding the toll the war is taking on the region. However, with over 400 Palestinians killed within days of attack resumption - increasing the total deaths in the region since October 7 to 15,000 by December 3 - casualty reports exhibit a higher concentration of Palestinian civilian losses than any other group. The decision for Western media to focus on Israel’s suffering alone presents a burying of the lead. Their report becomes the end of the information, despite the Palestinian perspective going unsung.
Opposite Western coverage of the war is non-Western news outlets, which present stories through a historical lens and the context of Israeli occupation and denial of Palestinian rights . The aforementioned Mada Masr runs an ongoing series of historical essays titled “Gaza siege”. Entries focus on how Israeli power across Gaza has led to depleted resources and living conditions for Palestinians for decades. The latest article as of writing is titled “Gaza siege: Years of starvation,” highlighting how, in 2007, Israel planned a food blockade in the region following Hamas’ elected control over the region. Israel’s plan included calculating the exact number of calories Palestinians would need each day and banning the import of food industry materials–including salt. The article includes heavy citation of sources detailing how the plan was carried out, and how 63% of Gaza’s population suffered food insecurity by 2018 because of the plan.
While this analytical series highlights Gaza’s history, other Middle Eastern news sources report on the war by presenting untold stories of recent Palestinian suffering. Turkey’s Anadolu Agency (AA) highlights stories that go unreported by mainstream Western outlets, such as Israeli social media users mocking dead Palestinian civilians in a trend that gained ground on December 5. In a similar vein, Iran’s Tehran Times highlights Middle Eastern responses to the war, many of which underscore the devastation Palestinian civilians face. An article published on November 24 asks in its headline, “What is a war crime and is Israel guilty of it?” The write-up proceeds to analyze Israel’s attacks through the lens of the Fourth Geneva Convention, indicating a violation through the sheer number of civilian casualties.
Mada Masr, AA, and the Tehran Times show a different side of the Gaza conflict than mainstream Western outlets. While United States media giants focus on Israeli struggles during the conflict, Middle Eastern reports paint a picture of Palestinian suffering using broader historical contexts. By processing the current war in Gaza through the decades-long lens of conflict that preceded it, non-Western news sources offer a perspective that goes unrepresented in the mainstream. This dichotomy also reveals the core elements associated with coverage based on region. Western news outlets clearly show favor toward Israel, evident by their emphasis on reports of individual Israeli hostages or keeping track of the number of injured and killed. Meanwhile, non-Western sources highlight Palestinians as victims of the conflict.
Beyond the Middle East, other non-Western media cover the conflict through unique lenses. The Rio Times based out of Brazil doesn’t employ a singular perspective on the war in its coverage. When discussing late December ceasefires between Israel and Hamas, coverage was mixed. While many articles focus on Israeli operations, reports also acknowledge the toll attacks have taken on Palestinian civilians.
Perspectives on Hamas
More nuanced differences also exist between how Hamas is framed by Western and non-Western sources. Because of the October 7 attack, mainstream outlets in the West utilize solely the framework of “anti-terrorism” when discussing the political and military organization. For example, Fox News referred to Hamas’ underground transportation system as “terror tunnels” when reporting on Israel’s plan to flood them with seawater. Others like Politico bolster President Joe Biden’s “terrorist” label for Hamas, such as when he condemned the group’s reported use of sexual violence on October 7. CNN often describes the group as “militants,” utilizing the term repeatedly when reporting Israel’s claim that a member of Hamas is killed for every two civilians. Language employed by Western news outlets reveals an implicit point of view that Hamas is a terrorist organization.
On the opposite side of the coin, non-Western outlets nuance this view with language that trades terrorism for resistance or might reference international law. In the case of AA, Hamas is often explicitly referred to as a “Palestinian resistance group.” This aligns with the sentiments of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who does not label them a terrorist organization. Mada Masr goes further than ascribing a different label to Hamas. Their coverage section for the war is titled “Israeli Aggression on Gaza 2023,” highlighting the organization’s pro-Palestinian perpsective. Hamas is often not given a particular label in articles. However, reports on issues like Palestinian displacement refer to Israeli forces as “the Occupation.” AA and Mada Masr reports exude language avoiding the West’s terroristic labeling of Hamas, instead pushing the notion of Israel as an imperial aggressor.
More recently, the shift of global attitudes due to the horrific impact of Israeli bombing has made it impossible for Western media to ignore pro-Palestinian rhetoric and movements in their own countries. This includes reports from papers like The New York Times documenting mostly pro-Palestinian movements on college campuses that have impacted several high-ranking schools, such as Harvard and Columbia. President Biden’s criticism of Israel’s approach to the war–acknowledging a loss of global support in the process–has forced Western outlets to acknowledge the divisiveness of the conflict. These stories underscore how, despite presenting many pro-Israel reports throughout their coverage of the war, worldwide humanitarian concerns and reframing of the conflict may alter Western media viewpoints in the near future.
Gaza war coverage has resulted in a multitude of perspectives in reporting, with Western and non-Western sources showcasing particular viewpoints reflecting specific agendas. Western media typically focuses on Israel’s narratives of the war, displaying personal stories of Israelis and . While they display some acknowledgement toward Palestinian civilian casualties, the centrality and primacy of Israel’s concerns resonates through their reports. Non-Western media approaches are broader, more likely to reference or include, pro-Palestinian perspectives while also underscoring the historical events that have led to this conflict. The findings showcased here also reflect investigations showcasing Western–owned social media censorship of Palestinian voices, putting Palestinian digital rights in danger. While these studies are beyond the scope of this article, it’s a further subject underscoring evidence of censorship and bias among Western media sources. As for mainstream news, methods of reporting from Western and non-Western outlets alike showcase how the war in Gaza is not only being fought physically, but through journalistic sources informing the world through a multitude of lenses.
Nick Bythrow is a content manager for Security in Context. He is a video editor for Security in Context's YouTube channel, as well as Co-Coordinator for the Media Roundup, where he contributes to the Africa and Israel/Palestine sections. He graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he served on the Board of Trustees and graduated with a B.A. in Journalism, Communications, and Media Studies. Bythrow is a researcher who focuses on fringe internet culture and digital information security. In addition to his work for Security in Context, Bythrow is a Senior Writer at the entertainment news website Screen Rant. He is also a speculative fiction author and poet, having published four fiction books and two poetry collections since 2020.