Israeli military called into question over misbehavior from troops

As Israel faces increasing international pressure over its intensive assault on Gaza, videos have emerged that raise questions over the conduct of its troops on the ground.

One video, apparently taken by soldiers themselves over the past week, shows Israeli troops setting fire to items in what they say is a candy factory in the Gaza Strip. They joke that the fire represents “the second candle of Hanukkah,” which would date it Dec. 8.

The soldiers in the video claim the factory’s candies were intended to be given out to Palestinian children to celebrate terrorist attacks. Panning the camera, they also mention that they had found a Hamas tunnel shaft inside the building. They did not say what these claims were based on or provide evidence for them.

In another video, a soldier is seen breaking children’s toys and gifts in a store. He poses with a snow globe before smashing it on the ground, grabbing notebooks off the shelves and overturning a rack of stickers in the small room, which he laughingly describes as “Jabalia superstore,” referring to the city and refugee camp in northern Gaza.

When asked about both videos, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson told NBC News that the soldiers’ behavior was “inappropriate and contrary to the values of the IDF,” and that the cases would be “reviewed and handled accordingly” adding that “the IDF condemns this type of behavior.”

IDF Truck fire
Video circulated on social media and verified by NBC News shows IDF soldiers setting fire in the back of a truck in what soldiers say is a candy factory in Gaza City last Friday.via X

The incidents may prove to be a relative footnote in a campaign in which 18,000 people have been killed and another 50,000 or so wounded, according to local officials. Israel’s military would also not be the first accused of acting in mocking, callous or malicious ways while on the battlefield, with Americans and countless others documented doing similar things.

But while the videos show just a handful of the tens of thousands of IDF troops estimated in Gaza, they nevertheless dent the image that Israel is trying to present to the world: that this is a just war against Hamas by the “most moral army in the world,” to use Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s words, whose troops are doing their solemn best to prevent civilian casualties.

“The videos are against the IDF interests and against Israel’s interests,” said Aviv Oreg, a retired major in the IDF’s intelligence services. “I believe it is an isolated local initiative of a couple of soldiers,” he said, but added that it was “totally wrong and contradicts IDF moral standards and rules of war that must be condemned.”

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Polls show that Israelis are overwhelmingly behind the war in Gaza, seen as vital to protecting their national security after the historic psychological jolt of Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in which 1,200 people were killed and some 240 abducted. But international opinion has been more divided, and President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Israel was “starting to lose that support” because of what he said was its “indiscriminate bombing” campaign.

More ardent critics of Israel present a more fundamental criticism of the videos: that this misbehavior is what happens on the ground when politicians routinely dehumanize Palestinians.

They “might seem like the least of our problems,” said Dror Sadot, spokesperson for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, which focuses on violations in the Palestinian territories. “But they are important because they are a mirror of Israeli officials dehumanizing all Gazans” — something that “filters down to the soldiers.”

An Israel soldier rummaging through private homes in Gaza.
An Israel soldier rummaging through private homes in Gaza. Several viral videos of Israeli soldiers behaving inappropriately in Gaza have emerged in recent days.X / via AP

Israel is adamant that it is only intent on targeting Hamas, and that the thousands of civilians killed are the responsibility of the militant group, which Israel says uses them as “human shields.” But Israeli officials both in and outside the government have been criticized for their rhetoric by opponents and international human rights activists

At the start of the war, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant described Hamas as “human animals,” and other officials have called for Gaza to be “erased” or flattened with a nuclear bomb.

Sadot said she believes that Israel “will condemn the acts” portrayed in the videos, but only for the “publicity” it needs internationally. “I don’t think anyone will be held accountable for this,” she said, citing other incidents in which she said Israeli troops had acted with impunity.

The video is the latest documentary evidence to raise questions over the conduct of Israeli soldiers in Gaza. Last week, images showed Israeli soldiers guarding dozens of men who had been stripped to their underwear, blindfolded and made to kneel with their hands tied in Beit Lahia, northern Gaza, according to NBC News geolocation.

The IDF and the Israeli Security Agency, the ISA, said they had “apprehended hundreds of wanted suspects throughout the Gaza Strip” and transferred them to Israel for further questioning.

Another video circulated widely over the weekend that also showed a large group of detained Palestinian men who had been made to strip to their underwear. In the video, one man cautiously approached the soldiers as he placed weapons on the ground.

The IDF said in a statement that it was “not an official IDF video” but that it is “often necessary for terror suspects to hand over their clothes … to ensure that they are not concealing explosive vests or other weaponry.”