An Israeli soldier gives a thumbs-up to the camera as he drives a bulldozer down a street in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, pushing a damaged car toward a half-collapsed building.
“I stopped counting how many neighborhoods I destroyed,” says the caption of the video posted on his personal TikTok, accompanied by a military anthem. Since Israel’s invasion in October, soldiers have shared videos from Gaza on social media, offering a rare unauthorized look at operations in the Palestinian territory. Some were seen by small circles of people; others reached tens of thousands.
The New York Times reviewed hundreds of these videos. Some show ordinary parts of a soldier’s life — eating, going out or sending messages to loved ones back home.
Others capture soldiers vandalizing local stores and school classrooms, making derogatory comments about Palestinians, demolishing what appear to be civilian areas and calling for the construction of Israeli settlements in Gaza, an inflammatory idea promoted by some far-right Israeli politicians.
Some of the soldiers’ posts violate Israel Defense Forces regulations restricting the use of social media by its personnel, which specifically prohibit sharing content that could “affect the defense forces’ image and perceptions in the eyes of the public.” or who displays behavior that “harms human dignity.”
In a statement, the Israeli army condemned the videos filmed by soldiers that the Times mentions in this report. “The conduct of the force that emerges from the images is deplorable and does not comply with army orders,” the agency said in a written statement. He added that the “circumstances” are being examined.
But new videos like these 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, often posting combat footage, sometimes even offering a first-person perspective from helmet-mounted cameras. Videos showing torture and executions were also posted.
With Israel’s war in Gaza under intense scrutiny, many videos of soldiers filmed in Gaza have fueled criticism. One of them was displayed and five others were also cited as evidence in the case that South Africa took to the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide, an accusation that Israel categorically denies.
The Times traced more than 50 videos to Israeli military combat engineering units showing the use of bulldozers, bulldozers and explosives to destroy what appear to be homes, 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 discussed in this report have been verified by determining the dates and locations where they were recorded or confirming that the soldiers appearing in them and their units were in Gaza at the time the images were uploaded. None of the soldiers who filmed and posted the videos responded when asked for comment.
More than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of an Israeli bombing and invasion of the Palestinian territory, according to health authorities in Gaza. The Israeli offensive followed Hamas-led attacks on October 7 against Israel that killed approximately 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.
The Base in ‘Nova Beach’
Following its ground invasion in late October, the Israeli army established bases along Gaza’s northern coast. The area, called Nova Beach by soldiers after the music festival where 364 people were killed by Hamas and its allies on Oct. 7, is the setting for many of the social media videos reviewed by the Times.
Before the war, the area was made up of houses belonging to Palestinian families, holiday properties, greenhouses and agricultural fields. A damaged house in Gaza, which is now a coastal Israeli base, is the setting for a video posted in November by a reservist who is also a DJ.
The clip was accompanied by a parody version of the Israeli song “This Was My Home,” which was featured in an Israeli comedy skit and has spread online in recent months among Israeli social media users who mock Palestinians.
“This was my home, no electricity, no gas,” goes the song as a soldier settles into the rubble of the damaged house before heading to the window and gesturing to a scene of destruction outside. The house was destroyed in late December, satellite images show.
“It’s heartbreaking, inhumane,” Basel al-Sourani, an international human rights lawyer at the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a nonprofit organization based in Gaza City, told the Times, “and it just demonstrates that the Israelis want basically that you leave your home, the Gaza Strip”.
Using another popular meme, the same soldier also posted a video in mid-November set to a remix called “Shtayim, Shalosh, Sha-ger,” or “Two, Three, Launch.” In the widely shared clip, soldiers dance in front of the camera, and when the word “launch” is heard, the video cuts to an image 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 TikTok representative said the videos violated the company’s guidelines, including its policies on 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 in units of the Israeli army’s Combat Engineer Corps, which uses heavy machinery, including bulldozers, to clear paths for the army, uncover and destroy tunnels and demolish structures. The Times recently documented controlled demolitions carried out by engineering units across the Gaza Strip.
In a video filmed on the outskirts of Khan Younis in southern Gaza in early January, combat engineering soldiers can be seen smoking hookah before explosions toppled residential buildings in the background. Then they raise their glasses to toast each other.
In some of the combat engineers’ videos, Israeli soldiers mock Palestinians as they destroy structures and property. In other videos widely shared on social media, soldiers dedicate the destruction of buildings to victims of the October 7 attacks and family members.
In a TikTok video, soldiers dedicate the demolition 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 plows 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
A combat engineering soldier shared a photograph on Dec. 12 on his TikTok account of three armored bulldozers and a destroyed landscape near the Israeli base on Gaza’s northern coast.
“This is after a lot of work — the whole place was covered in vegetation and houses until we got there,” says the caption.
About a mile south along the coast, similar destruction can be seen in satellite images captured in late December, showing that at least 63 buildings, including homes, had been demolished within 500 m of the base. . At the time, the area was about 1.5 miles from the border of Israeli-controlled territory, according to maps published by the Institute for War Studies.
The visible rubble of the buildings is consistent with demolition methods used by combat engineering units seen in videos filmed elsewhere in Gaza and reviewed by the Times. Israel has been using bulldozers to clear vast areas of land and property across the Gaza Strip since late October.
The Times sent the coordinates of each of the 63 structures to the Israeli army and asked for comment on the military necessity for their destruction. In a written response, the army stated that Israel “was currently fighting a complex war” and that “there are difficulties in tracing specific cases to a specific coordinate at this time.”
Four legal experts analyzed social media videos and satellite images near the base and said the images could be used to show illegal destruction, a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
John Quigley, an Ohio State University law professor emeritus who specializes in international human rights law, said in an email that “the extent of the destruction of residential buildings in Gaza suggests that the Israel Defense Forces are using a pattern of protection of private property that does not conform to international standards of warfare.”
In response to questions about soldiers’ demolition of civilian homes, an Israeli military spokesman, Major Nir Dinar, said the army acts out of “operational necessity” and follows the laws of war. “The homes being treated are buildings that pose a threat to operating forces, or are a military target of some kind,” he told the Times by phone. “Each target being eliminated has a good reason for that elimination.”
Israel is also carrying out controlled demolitions along 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.
This article was originally published in The New York Times.