Israeli army tells soldiers to 'behave' amid widespread looting in Gaza

Israeli army tells soldiers to 'behave' amid widespread looting in Gaza
Israel’s military prosecutor warned soldiers to avoid 'criminal acts' in Gaza, in the wake of many reports documenting widespread looting by Israeli soldiers.
3 min read
21 February, 2024
Israeli soldiers are accused of multiple war crimes in Gaza, including mass looting and ransacking of Palestinian homes. (file photo/Amir Levy/Getty Images)

The Israeli military has warned soldiers against theft in Gaza, amid widespread reports and video footage of looting and misuse of private Palestinian property by troops occupying the territory.

Israeli military advocate general Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi issued a public letter on Wednesday to Israeli soldiers deployed in Gaza, warning them against committing "criminal acts" in the strip.

The letter was released amid reports of widespread looting by Israeli soldiers in Gaza, to which the Israeli army failed to respond until now.

"We have encountered cases of unacceptable conduct that deviate from IDF values and protocols," the Israeli military’s top lawyer wrote in the letter.

"Looting, which include the use or removal of private property for non-operational purposes, and destruction of civilian property [is] contrary to protocols."

The letter follows a series of damning reports that show Israeli soldiers have been looting and vandalising the homes of Palestinians in Gaza. 

Multiple videos showing Israeli soldiers destroying and looting furniture and mocking the owners and former residents of houses they were ransacking have sparked outrage on social media in recent days.  

In some of these videos, soldiers are seen boasting about finding wristwatches and stealing rugs, groceries, and jewelry.

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An Israeli woman posted photos in a Facebook group, comprising nearly 100,000 users, of "gifts from Gaza" that her partner, a soldier, had brought back for her, the Israeli left-wing media +972 Magazine reported.

Soldiers who returned from fighting in Gaza told the outlet and Local Call that the phenomenon is widespread and that most commanders turn a blind eye to it.

"People took things — mugs, books, each one the souvenir that does it for him," one soldier told the two outlets. 

"Everyone knows that people are taking things," another soldier said.

"It's considered funny — people say: ‘Send me to The Hague.’ It doesn’t happen in secret. The commanders saw, everyone knows, and no one seems to care."

There was no immediate reaction from Israeli authorities to these crimes, which have been ongoing for months. Yet the Israeli army seems increasingly worried about the damage these could do to Israel’s reputation.

The videos and photos could "cause the State of Israel and the IDF strategic damage in the international arena, the seriousness of which is difficult to overstate", Tomer-Yerushalmi stressed in her letter.

Usr also faces heightened scrutiny at the International Court of Justice, where two cases are currently ongoing against crimes committed by the Israeli army and government in the West Bank and Gaza. 

Tomer-Yerushalmi’s message comes a day after similar instructions were sent to troops by the Israeli army chief of staff, Herzi Halevi.

The missive stated that the Israeli army was "not on a killing spree", and that soldiers had not been deployed to carry out acts of revenge or genocide.

But Israeli soldiers have been accused of committing numerous war crimes in Gaza, allegedly encouraged by fiery speeches from Israeli politicians and cabinet members.

The Israeli army is also accused of targeting humanitarian and medical staff, killing journalists, or torturing, humiliating and degrading Palestinian prisoners.

More than 29,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Gaza Strip by Israel's offensive.