IDF posting abuse footage despite pledge to act

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A Palestinian detainee pictured with an Israeli flag draped over their back

By Merlyn Thomas & Jamie Ryan & Paul Brown
BBC Verify

Israel’s soldiers are sharing footage of Palestinian detentions in the occupied West Bank, despite the army’s pledge to act on previous misconduct revealed by the BBC.

Legal experts say the filming, and its posting online, could be a war crime.

The BBC has analysed 45 photos and videos, which include those of detainees draped in Israeli flags.

The Israel Defense Forces said soldiers have been disciplined or suspended in the event of “unacceptable behaviour”.

It did not comment on the individual incidents or soldiers we identified.

International law says detainees must not be exposed to unnecessary humiliation or public curiosity, yet human rights experts say the posting of detention footage does just that.

In February, BBC Verify reported on IDF soldiers’ misconduct on social media during the war in Gaza which began after a 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, which killed about 1,200 people. More than 252 others were taken hostage. More than 34,000 people have since been killed by Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry says.

During our earlier investigation, we noticed – and began looking into – a similar pattern of behaviour in the West Bank, which has experienced a spike in violence over the same period.

Despite the BBC’s previous reporting on Israeli soldiers’ social media misconduct, and the military’s subsequent promise to act on our findings, a former Israeli soldier, Ori Givati, says he is far from shocked to hear that this activity is continuing.

A spokesperson for Breaking The Silence – an organisation for former and serving Israeli soldiers which works to expose alleged wrongdoing in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) – Mr Givati added that in fact he believed current far-right political rhetoric in the country is encouraging it further.

“There are no repercussions. They [Israeli soldiers] get encouraged and supported by the highest ministers of the government,” he said.

And he says this plays into a mindset that the military already subscribes to.

“The culture in the military, when it comes to Palestinians, is that they are only targets. They are not human beings. This is how the military teaches you to behave.”

Israel has built about 160 settlements housing some 700,000 Jews since it occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem – land the Palestinians want as part of a future state – in the 1967 Middle East war. The majority of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law, although Israel disputes this.

Screenshots of pictures shared to social media by members of the IDF

Our analysis found that the 45 social media videos and photos that we examined were posted by 11 soldiers of the Kfir Brigade, which is the largest infantry brigade in the IDF and mainly operates in the West Bank. All 11 are, or were, serving soldiers, and did not hide their identity on social media.

Four are from a Kfir Brigade reservist battalion – the 9213 – whose area of operation appears to be in the northern part of the West Bank, according to our analysis of their social media videos.

We asked the IDF about the actions of the individual soldiers we have named and whether they have been disciplined, but they did not respond.

We also attempted to contact these soldiers on their public social media accounts to put our findings to them. One appears to have blocked us and the others did not reply at the time of writing.

The most prolific of these soldiers posts under the name Yohai Vazana.

Many of his videos show his battalion entering homes at night and detaining Palestinians – often binding their hands and blindfolding them. Women are seen panicking as they are filmed without their headscarves.

Mr Vazana – a self-proclaimed “digital creator” whose forearms bear tattoos saying “Never forget never forgive, 7/10” – often refers to his operations as “hunts”. His military insignia, visible in the videos, suggests he carries the rank of sergeant major.

He has posted 22 videos and photos on Facebook and TikTok, from what appear to be bodycam footage of patrols, showing the detention of Palestinians.

TikTok confirmed that two videos we highlighted, which had not been taken down on its platform, have now been removed for violating its guidelines which “make clear that we do not tolerate content that seeks to degrade victims of violent tragedies”.

Meta, the company that owns Facebook, explained that it is reviewing the content and will remove any videos that violate its policies.

A screenshot from one of Yohai Vazana’s videos shows members of his battalion posing in front of a Palestinian woman with a child

This photo, a screenshot from one of Yohai Vazana’s videos, shows members of his battalion forcefully entering a home and posing in front of a Palestinian woman with a child.

Fellow soldier Ofer Bobrov features in a number of shots with Mr Vazana. Captions on his videos often include the hashtag “9213”, suggesting he is from Mr Vazana’s battalion.

Mr Bobrov’s videos of his military operations are posted alongside clips of soldiers dancing and partying, getting ready for patrols, and other snippets from their everyday life.

One video posted on 12 February on TikTok includes several photos of a detainee blindfolded and bound on the floor as a soldier poses with the Israeli flag behind him.

Another soldier from the same battalion, who goes by Sammy Ben online, has posted eight videos and one photo of Palestinian detainees on Instagram.

The detained Palestinians are frequently shown blindfolded and restrained, having been forced to either lie on the floor, or squat, with their hands bound behind their backs, in what are often referred to by military and law enforcement as “stress positions”.

Mr Ben says in the posts that he and his fellow soldiers have detained “terrorists” and claim to have found Hamas flags on them. Israel – like the UK, US and other countries – proscribes Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

In one video, Mr Ben, who has also served with IDF forces in Gaza, mocks two detained Palestinians, ordering them to say: “Am Yisrael Chai”, meaning “The people of Israel live”.

Ori Dahbash is another member of the same battalion who has posted footage of military operations in the West Bank, including a photo of a detainee that has also been shared by Mr Vazana.

An Israeli soldier posts a photo of detainees while holding an Israeli flag

Experts said the footage posted by the soldiers could violate international law.

Dr Mark Ellis, chairman of a UN-created advisory panel on international criminal tribunals, called for an investigation into the incidents in the footage, and for the IDF to discipline the soldiers involved.

International human rights lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice, who worked with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) between 1998 and 2006, agreed with Dr Ellis, but was sceptical anyone would be held to account for their actions.

In response to our investigation, the IDF replied: “The IDF holds its soldiers to a professional standard… and investigates when behavior is not in line with the IDF’s values. In the event of unacceptable behavior, soldiers were disciplined and even suspended from reserve duty.

“Additionally, soldiers are instructed to avoid uploading footage of operational activities to social media networks.”

The IDF’s response did not acknowledge that it had pledged to act on our earlier findings on similar social media misconduct, in Gaza.

Mr Givati, former Israeli commander in the West Bank, said he felt ashamed and disgusted by Israeli soldiers’ treatment of detainees.

“We should treat them with the same dignity that we would like to be treated with,” he told the BBC.

He said the behaviour reflected how he felt Israeli society views Palestinians, and called into question its claims to abide by international law.

“We have no future as a society if we continue behaving this way,” he said.

What do you want BBC Verify to investigate?

9 February

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