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'Psychological warfare': Israeli troops go on looting and vandalism spree across Gaza

Footage shows soldiers in besieged enclave stealing makeup and necklaces, setting fire to food supplies and installing Jewish symbols in Palestinian neighbourhoods
Footage shared on social media shows Israeli soldiers setting fire to scare food and water supplies in the Gaza Strip (X/Screengrab)
Footage shared on social media shows Israeli soldiers setting fire to scarce food and water supplies in the Gaza Strip (X/Screengrab)
By Rayhan Uddin in London

Since Israel launched a ground operation in Gaza in late October, footage has emerged of troops carrying out violent and provocative acts that appear to have little to do with furthering their stated aim of destroying Hamas. 

This has included theft, destruction of businesses and properties, vandalism, and the installation of Israeli and Jewish symbols across Gaza’s neighbourhoods. 

Such behaviour has been blamed on indiscipline, but analysts believe it is also a form of “psychological warfare”. 

In one example of theft, a soldier bragged about stealing a silver necklace from Gaza to take back to his girlfriend in Israel. Another troop stole a rug from a Palestinian home.

In a post shared on a popular Facebook group, an Israeli officer gloated about seizing a host of sealed makeup items to take to Israel as “gifts from Gaza”. 

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The top comment under the Facebook post read: “It's better if you delete the post... Gives us a bad name... not because I care about that Gazan woman, I wouldn't care if she never sees the light of day again, I care about the soldier who could be put on trial, and about the IDF's reputation."

Meanwhile, a Palestinian musician told Middle East Eye he was shocked to discover that an Israeli soldier had stolen and played his guitar on the rubble of his destroyed home in northern Gaza. 

Elsewhere, footage emerged of a Palestinian gift shop being completely destroyed, as well of an Israeli soldier rummaging through a woman’s underwear and using derogatory remarks about her.

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Another clip shows a soldier setting fire to scarce food and water supplies. 

“There is a long history of Israeli soldiers vandalising the homes of Palestinians they invade,” Laleh Khalili, an academic and researcher at the University of Exeter, told MEE.

“During the Nakba and successive wars of conquest in the historic lands of Palestine, in Lebanon in the early 1980s, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories during successive invasions, such behaviour has been rife,” she added.

“Israeli soldiers have left graffiti - often using quite violent, even genocidal, language; defecated in kitchens; looted valuable personal items; destroyed everyday objects and belongings; and taken trophy photographs of themselves.” 

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The sheer scale of the footage prompted Israel’s military to put out a condemnatory statement. 

“In any event that does not align with IDF values, command and disciplinary steps will be taken,” Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military's spokesman, said in a statement on Sunday. 

As well as looting and vandalism, Israeli troops have also been seen installing Israeli and Jewish symbols across the enclave. 

'The vandalism and looting we see is likely both a result of indiscipline and an element of psychological warfare'

- Laleh Khalili, University of Exeter 

A 13-metre high Hanukkah menorah was installed in Shujaiya, one of the most populous areas of central Gaza. Israeli flags have also been planted across the besieged enclave. 

“I wonder how many Israelis understand that the entire Zionist project looks like this picture to the Palestinians,” wrote journalist Dimi Reider on X, responding to a picture of a flag in the middle of a destroyed neighbourhood. 

Another image taken in Khan Younis in a Palestinian home shows several Israeli troops holding up a poster that states: “Only settlements [in Gaza] is victory.”

In 2005, Israel purportedly pulled out of Gaza and relocated around 8,000 Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers living in 21 settlements around Gaza to the occupied West Bank.

Several far-right figures, including government ministers, have called in recent weeks for rebuilding Israeli settlements in the enclave. 

'Psychological warfare'

Khalili said that the idea of a disciplined Israeli military was “a myth”. 

“The military is made of conscripts, most of them committed Zionists who believe in their right to settle anywhere between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea,” she said. 

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“The ranks of the officers of the Israeli military are populated with some of the most fanatical settler types who - like the right-wing elsewhere - have always been drawn to militaries and other coercive institutions.” 

Several commentators have posited that the footage was a deliberate attempt at “psychological warfare”. 

“The videos of Israeli soldiers stripping Palestinians and looting shops seem to be deliberately leaked to demoralise Gazans and bolster morale domestically,” wrote journalist Murtaza Hussain. 

“But they send a negative signal internationally where it’s promoted the IDF is a highly professional Western-style military,” he added. 

Khalili said: “The vandalism and looting we see is likely both a result of indiscipline and an element of psychological warfare.

"If it weren't, official military websites and social media groups wouldn't be posting and publicising some of this egregious behaviour.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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