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Analysis. Top figures in the Netanyahu government themselves described the Palestinians as “human animals.” It’s no surprise that the soldiers are behaving accordingly.

Looting and war crimes, live on TikTok – ‘Now report me to the Hague’

Since the beginning of the “total siege” of the Gaza Strip, Israeli soldiers have been posting acts of violence and oppression – if not outright war crimes – committed by them on social media. And they are doing so with a highly disturbing lack of concern. The range of examples is tragically vast, and has been cataloged on X for months by Palestinian journalist Younis Tirawi. Photos and videos show large-scale devastation, the shelling of civilian homes, the destruction of mosques, mass arrests, the humiliation of prisoners and looting of every kind.

There is such a large quantity of posts by soldiers, shared mostly on TikTok and Instagram, that it is possible to isolate a few common strands within this macabre genre. One of the most popular is the display of stolen items. In many images, soldiers laugh while wearing bras belonging to Gazan women over their uniforms, evidently looted from abandoned homes.

In several videos, soldiers are seen pedaling on children’s bicycles; riding small rocking horses inside destroyed and uninhabited apartments; “gifting” toy pianos to fellow soldiers; playing musical instruments (obviously not belonging to them) amid the rubble; and waving around wads of cash found in homes as if they were in a rap video.

Another particularly prolific strand is the desecration of the Palestinian flag: there are photos in which it is burned in various ways and videos in which they use it as a makeshift carpet to wipe their boots.

The destruction of Palestinian property is also very popular: soldiers deliberately vandalize stores, furniture, kitchen utensils or furnishings. In one particular case, in an Instagram story, a soldier from the 890th Airborne Battalion is throwing cups on the ground outside a home. Then, turning to the cell phone filming him, he says with contempt: “And now report me to the Hague, you bastards.”

Israeli soldiers often accompany such photos and videos with violent and overtly genocidal texts. For example, in one Facebook post, a staff sergeant wrote that “the goal is simple: turn Gaza into an esplanade with beautiful beaches. Do I care at all about its inhabitants? I’ll say it right now: NO.”

In the same vein as the “esplanade” notion, in various posts – especially on Instagram – soldiers provocatively hold up banners in which they advertise the upcoming opening of Israeli businesses in Gaza, or call for the restoration of settlements within the Strip.

Then there is another particularly disturbing strand: the mocking skits. In one video, soldiers are playing soccer inside a destroyed building; in another, two soldiers are posing and acting out getting a haircut inside a barber shop. Another photo shows a soldier turning his middle finger toward a building that housed a school run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

What is striking is not only the acts themselves, but the fact that they take place in a cheerful and playful atmosphere. What emerges from such content is the joy the soldiers take in annihilating and humiliating the Palestinians, who are not even considered people at all. The soldiers themselves don’t consider such conduct problematic from either an ethical or legal standpoint.

In February, a video went viral in which Israeli reservist Leroi Taljaar, who holds dual South African and Israeli citizenship, acted out a skit mocking the destruction of a building in Khan Younis with explosives. Interviewed by U.S. broadcaster ABC News, Taljaar justified himself by saying that “Me and my friends went through a very, very difficult time while we were there. And our way of getting over that difficulty was making dark comedy.” He added that he did not fear any repercussions whatsoever: the Israeli army never took any action against him, and in fact never contacted him about it at all.

At the same time, such conduct theoretically goes against the code of conduct of the Israel Armed Forces, which also regulates behavior on social media. So much so that IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari, also interviewed by ABC News, said that certain behaviors would be met with “severe punishment” because “this is the army of the people. And we follow the core, the values and the international law.” However, in practice, the ease with which soldiers are posting these reprehensible actions testifies to their systemic, and therefore widely tolerated, nature.

It hasn’t always been this way: In 2010, reservist Eden Abergil posted a selfie on Facebook depicting her in a mocking pose in front of three blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinian prisoners. The photo was discovered by leftist Israeli bloggers and sparked a great debate both inside and outside Israel. The army itself called it “shameful behavior” and promised to take action to prevent a repeat of such scandals.

Nowadays that photo wouldn’t even cause a stir. The posts by soldiers in Gaza are markedly worse, but at the same time they fit into a broader media strategy. As a recent investigation by the daily Haaretz showed, in recent months the army unit dedicated to psychological warfare operations ran a Telegram channel called “72 Virgins – Uncensored.” In that space, explicit and particularly gory material was posted, filled with photos of civilian corpses, incitements to hatred and videos of soldiers dipping bullets in pork fat.

The operation was not formally authorized, but the very fact that it was conceived and finally carried out gives a full picture of the radicalization of Israeli war propaganda, which in turn mirrors the general radicalization of Israeli society.

For years, the army had tried to soften its image – and the violence of the occupation of the Palestinian territories – with memes, pop culture references and female soldier-influencers. After October 7, it has decided to show itself as ruthless and implacable, going so far as to flaunt its virtually unlimited brutality against the enemy.

Then again, the top figures in the Netanyahu government themselves described the Palestinians as “human animals.” It’s no surprise that the soldiers are behaving accordingly.

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