What Israeli Soldiers’ Videos Reveal: Cheering Destruction and Mocking Gazans

An analysis of social media videos found Israeli soldiers filming themselves in Gaza and destroying what appears to be civilian property. The footage provides a rare and unsanctioned window into the war.

An Israeli soldier gives a thumbs up to the camera as he drives a bulldozer down a street in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, pushing a battered car toward a half-collapsed building.

An Israeli soldier gives a thumbs up to the camera as he drives a bulldozer down a street in Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, pushing a battered car toward a half-collapsed building.

“I stopped counting how many neighborhoods I’ve erased,” the caption reads on the video posted to his personal TikTok, accompanied by a militaristic anthem.

Since Israel’s invasion in October, soldiers have shared videos from Gaza on social media, offering a rare, unsanctioned look at operations on the ground. Some have been viewed by small circles of people; others have reached tens of thousands.

The New York Times reviewed hundreds of these videos. Some show unremarkable parts of a soldier’s life — eating, hanging out or sending messages to loved ones back home.

Others capture soldiers vandalizing local shops and school classrooms, making derogatory comments about Palestinians, bulldozing what appear to be civilian areas and calling for the building of Israeli settlements in Gaza, an inflammatory idea that is promoted by some far-right Israeli politicians.

Some of the soldiers’ posts violate regulations of the Israel Defense Forces that restrict the use of social media by its personnel, which specifically forbid sharing content that may “affect the image of the I.D.F. and its perceptions in the eyes of the public,” or that shows behavior that “harms human dignity.”

In a statement, the Israeli military condemned the videos filmed by soldiers featured in this story.

“The conduct of the force that emerges from the footage is deplorable and does not comply with the army’s orders,” the military said in a written statement. It added that the “circumstances” were being examined.

But new videos like these from the ground continue to appear online, a reminder of the many ways social media is changing warfare. In Russia and Ukraine, soldiers now share videos directly from the battlefield, frequently posting footage of combat, at times even giving a first-person perspective from helmet-mounted cameras. Videos have also been posted showing torture and executions.

With ​Israel’s war in Gaza under intense scrutiny, many of the soldiers’ videos shot in Gaza have fueled criticism. One was screened and five others were also cited as evidence in the case that South Africa brought to the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide, a charge Israel has categorically denied.

The Times traced more than 50 videos back to Israel’s military combat engineering units, showing the use of bulldozers, excavators and explosives to destroy what appear to be houses, schools and other civilian buildings.

Human rights experts have raised concerns about the scale of this type of destruction in areas under Israeli military control, noting that international standards of warfare require a clear military necessity to destroy civilian property.

The videos in this story have been verified by determining the dates and locations where they were recorded, or by confirming that the soldiers appearing in them and their units were in Gaza around the time the footage was uploaded.

None of the soldiers who shot and posted the videos responded when asked for comment.

More than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since an Israeli bombardment and invasion of the enclave began, according to the health authorities in Gaza. The Israeli offensive followed the 7 October Hamas-led attacks on Israel, which killed roughly 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.

The base at ‘Nova Beach’

After its ground invasion in late October, the Israeli military established bases along the northern coast of Gaza. The area, called Nova Beach by soldiers, a reference to the music festival where 364 people were killed by Hamas and its allies on Oct. 7, is the backdrop for many of the social media videos reviewed by The Times.

Before the war, the area was made up of homes belonging to Gazan families, vacation properties, greenhouses and agricultural fields. A damaged Gazan house on what is now a coastal Israeli base is the setting for a video posted in November by a reservist who is also a D.J.

The clip was paired with a parody version of the Israeli song “This Was My Home,” which was featured in an Israeli comedy sketch and has spread online in recent months among Israeli social media users making fun of Palestinians.

“This was my home, without electricity, without gas,” the song goes as a soldier makes himself at home in the rubble of the damaged house before heading to the window and gesturing at a scene of destruction outside. The house was destroyed in late December, satellite imagery shows.

“It’s heartbreaking, inhumane,” Basel al-Sourani, an international human rights lawyer with the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization based in Gaza City, told The Times, “and just demonstrates that the Israelis want you basically out of your home, the Gaza Strip.”

Using another popular meme, the same soldier also posted a video in mid-November to the sounds of a remix called “Shtayim, Shalosh, Sha-ger” or “Two, Three, Launch.” In the widely shared clip, soldiers dance on camera, and when the word “launch” is heard, the video cuts to a shot of a building being blown up.

Shortly after The Times asked TikTok about the videos featured in this story, the clips were removed from the platform. A representative from TikTok said the videos violated company guidelines, including its policies around hate speech and behavior.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, did not respond to a request for comment.

A window into demolitions

Some of the most active accounts reviewed by The Times belonged to soldiers from units of the Israeli military’s Combat Engineering Corps, which uses heavy machinery, including bulldozers, to clear pathways for the military, discover and destroy tunnels and raze structures. The Times recently documented controlled demolitions carried out by engineering units throughout Gaza.

In a video filmed on the outskirts of Khan Younis in southern Gaza in early January, combat engineering soldiers can be seen smoking hookah pipes before explosions take down residential buildings in the background. They then raise glasses to toast each other.

In some of the combat engineers’ videos, Israeli soldiers mock Palestinians as they destroy structures and property. In others shared widely on social media, soldiers dedicate the destruction of buildings to victims of the 7 October attacks and to family members. In one TikTok video, soldiers dedicate the bulldozing of a building to Eyal Golan, an Israeli singer who has called for the complete destruction of Gaza. South Africa cited this video as evidence of what it called “genocidal speech by soldiers” in its case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

As the bulldozer drives into the remaining walls of a partially destroyed house in Khan Younis, soldiers shout, “Eyal Golan, our dear brother, we love you,” and add: “This house is for you.”

A destroyed landscape

One combat engineering soldier shared a photograph on Dec. 12 to his TikTok account with three armored bulldozers and a destroyed landscape near the Israeli base on the northern coastline of Gaza.

“This is after a lot of work — the whole place was covered in greenery and houses until we got there,” the caption reads.

About a mile south along the coast, similar destruction can be seen in satellite imagery captured in late December, showing that at least 63 buildings, including homes, had been cleared within a quarter mile of the base. At the time, the area was about 1.5 miles from the boundary of Israeli-controlled territory, according to maps published by the Institute for the Study of War.

The visible building rubble is consistent with clearing methods used by combat engineering units seen in videos filmed elsewhere in Gaza and analyzed by The Times. Israel has used bulldozers to clear vast amounts of land and property throughout Gaza since late October.

The Times sent the coordinates for each of the 63 structures to the Israeli military and asked for comment on the military necessity for their destruction. In a written response, the military stated that Israel “was currently fighting a complex war” and that “there are difficulties in tracing back specific cases with a specific coordinate at this time.”

Four legal experts reviewed the social media videos and satellite imagery near the base and said the imagery could be used to show unlawful destruction, a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Dr. John B. Quigley, a professor emeritus of law at Ohio State University specializing in international human rights law, said in an email that “the scope of destruction of residential buildings in Gaza suggests that the I.D.F. is using a standard for protection of private property that does not comply with international standards for warfare.”

In response to questions about soldiers’ bulldozing of civilian homes, an Israeli military spokesman, Maj. Nir Dinar, said that the military acts upon “operational necessity” and follows laws of war. “The houses that are being dealt with are buildings that pose a threat to forces operating or they are a military target of some sort,” he told The Times by phone. “Every target that is being eliminated, there is a good reason for that elimination.”

Israel is also conducting controlled demolitions along the length of Gaza’s 36-mile land border in order to create a “buffer zone.” Legal experts have questioned the legality of these demolitions, noting that it is unlikely that all of the destroyed buildings posed an immediate military threat.

Original article

Photo: Stills taken from Israeli soldiers’ videos, shared from Gaza on social media, showing them mocking Palestinians and destroying what appears to be civilian property. The footage provides evidence of Israeli war crimes since 7 October 2023. Source: The New York Times.

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