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On TikTok, the war in Gaza is a game

Israeli soldiers in the Palestinian enclave have shared dozens of videos mocking the destruction of Gaza, trivializing the bombings and playing with objects found in abandoned houses

Guerra entre Israel y Gaza
Israeli soldiers in a screenshot of a TikTok video in which soldiers appear mocking the destruction in Gaza.

On TikTok, the war in Gaza is a game. The ground invasion of the Palestinian enclave saw the entry of an unknown number of Israeli soldiers, each with a cellphone in their pocket. With these cellphones, some soldiers are sharing videos in which they mock the destruction in the Gaza Strip, dedicate controlled explosions to one of their children, rob houses abandoned by Palestinians and play with shovels. These are dozens of videos — in several of which it has been possible to verify their location and in others the authenticity of the profile — taken by the soldiers inside Gaza, mostly men between 18 and 40 years old.

One of the TikTok trends is to show the process of loading a projectile into a tank and firing it. Another is to put trance music to a video, along with the words “2-3, sha-ger.” This is the order that a military drone operator is given to drop a bomb, with the syllables separated so that the message is clear. The trend began with a video from the Israeli army that attracted a lot of attention — receiving one million views — and has ended up becoming a multipurpose viral expression.

Also popular are videos filmed from inside an armored vehicle or bulldozer. In some, a comical voice says that they need the all-terrain vehicle to get around traffic jams. In one, a building is being demolished; in another, a car is steamrolled out of the way, as the user comments: “I have stopped counting the cars I have destroyed.”

The videos convey the change in national mood since the Hamas attack on October 7. They often use the Israeli hit song Charbu Darbu, which has lyrics such as “We’ve brought the whole army and I swear there will be no forgiveness,” and “every dog gets what he deserves in the end.”

In the videos, soldiers are also seen playing with objects apparently found in homes: cycling around on children’s bicycles or hitting a ball with a beach tennis paddle — a supposed gibe at the claims that Israeli soldiers feared entering Gaza. In another video, a soldier holds a silver pendant while the person filming tells a couple that a gift awaits them from Gaza. “Made in Gaza” adds the soldier, imitating the Arabic accent.

Sarcasm and messages to loved ones

Some videos mock the destruction in the Gaza Strip, where more than half of buildings have been damaged, and entire neighborhoods have been wiped out, especially in the north. In one, verified on Rashid Street in Gaza City, a barely standing building is seen while a narrator jokes about the advantage of living in a place where fresh air comes in from all four sides. Another, with verified coordinates and bucolic music in the background, shows a row of damaged beachfront properties with the message: “A free hotel in Gaza.”

Two soldiers simulate a real estate advertisement for those without subsidized housing in Israel. “Now there is a bit of chaos and explosions, but here we are going to work so that there will soon be new land […] With God’s help, soon there will be an apartment here for you too,” says one of them. In another video, the TikTok user asks for the nearest branch of Aroma, the largest coffee shop network. They receive instructions and are told that it does not open until 9:00 a.m. The video then pans to the desolate landscape of the street.

There are many others. Like the video filmed within the Supreme Court (later blown up by Israeli troops), which has the message: “There are no trials until further notice.” Or the one where the TikTok user ironically sings “It was my house” in a destroyed apartment. A soldier, who says he is inside the Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City, complains that he cannot make an appointment to have his teeth cleaned, as he stands in front of the broken machine that hands out tickets for appointments. Other videos use puns. One asks “Do you know why Hamas only has choruses?” ― “Because it does not have batim,” the word that in Hebrew means both verses and houses.

Inside an apartment, a soldier protests because two others have broken a candle. Then he turns the phone around to show that everything is in ruins. In one of the most recent videos, another soldier is seen smashing children’s gifts and stationery products of a store located in Jabalia, the refugee camp in northern Gaza. He says the products are on sale as the person recording the video laughs.

Some are not sarcastic, but rather take advantage of Israel’s presence in Gaza to send messages to loved ones. For example, in one video, a TikTok user dedicates the controlled explosion of a building to his daughter because she is turning two years old, while another asks his girlfriend to marry him amid applause “in the heart of Gaza,” as reads the message in the video.

There are also ideological videos, with messages in favor of reestablishing Gush Katif, the Israeli bloc of settlement with 8,000 Jewish residents that was founded in Gaza shortly after the Six-Day War in 1967, and remained until the Ariel Sharon’s government ordered its evacuation in 2005. According to a survey, 22% of the Israeli population support having settlements in Gaza, and some ministers of the Israeli government openly back the idea. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has made it clear that “it is not realistic,” while U.S. President Joe Biden said Israel occupying Gaza would be “a big mistake.”

For this reason, in one of the videos, a soldier sends a message to Netanyahu: “Listen, Bibi: We found [the Gazans], we expelled them and we settled.” In another, about 15 soldiers sing “We will return” to the sound of a guitar. In a third, a soldier erases the Arabic words that were written with chalk on the blackboard, apparently from a school, to hang an orange ribbon, the color of the movement against the evacuation of Gush Katif.

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