BBC 2024-02-09 22:03:44

Israeli soldier videos from Gaza could breach international law, experts say

Videos of Gazan detainees stripped, bound and blindfolded that were filmed and uploaded online by Israeli soldiers could breach international law, legal experts say.

International law says detainees must not be exposed to unnecessary humiliation or public curiosity.

BBC Verify looked at hundreds of videos openly shared by Israeli soldiers in Gaza since November 2023. We verified eight showing detainees.

The IDF says it has terminated the service of one of the reservists we identified, and videos like these do not represent its values. It did not respond to any further request for comment.

Dr Mark Ellis, a leading UN advisor to international criminal tribunals, said the footage we showed him from Israeli soldiers might violate the recognised rules for treating prisoners of war.

Serving soldiers

Most of the videos we analysed show scenes of fighting and soldiers looking through homes abandoned by residents.

One video shows soldiers launching weapons dressed up as dinosaurs, and others show them setting up a pizza restaurant in an empty Palestinian home.

But we found eight, filmed and shared publicly, which legal experts say show the ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees.

They were all posted by men who are or were serving soldiers, who did not hide their identity.

We uncovered one account by analysing an image of a Palestinian detainee which was widely shared online earlier this week. Reverse image search tools show it came from the YouTube account of Israeli soldier Yossi Gamzoo Letova.

He has uploaded multiple videos from Gaza since early December, including shots of his troop, which he identifies as the Granite Battalion 932, which is part of the IDF’s Nahal Brigade.

In a video posted on 24 December 2023, the Palestinian detainee from the image is shown stripped and bleeding with his hands bound and sat on a chair while being interrogated.

We identified the location as Gaza College, a school in the north of the strip, from the distinctive decor as well as the institution’s logo which can be seen in the video and which we matched to its Facebook page.

Later in the same video, the detainee is seen being marched barefoot through the streets of Gaza.

In a statement, the IDF said: “The photo was taken during a field questioning. The suspect was not injured. A reservist photographed and published the picture contrary to IDF orders and values. It was recently decided to terminate his reserve service.”

Videos removed

On the same day, Mr Letova posted another YouTube video showing hundreds of Palestinian detainees gathered in a sports field, which we geolocated and verified as Gaza’s Yarmouk stadium.

Most of those in the video have been stripped to their underwear. Some are blindfolded and kneeling on the ground in ordered rows, while Israeli soldiers watch on.

At one point, a group including three women detainees appear kneeling and blindfolded behind a football goal with an Israeli flag hung above it.

An Israeli soldier appears in the video several times, and appears aware he is being filmed.

By comparing his uniform and insignia with other publicly available images of IDF uniform online, we identified him as lieutenant colonel, or battalion commander.

Both videos were taken down from Mr Letova’s public YouTube page soon after the BBC contacted the IDF.

Code of ethics

Two videos uploaded to Tiktok by another IDF soldier include pictures of blindfolded detainees, interspersed with images of soldiers posing with guns.

One posted on 14 December, set to an Israeli rap song, includes an image of blindfolded detainees packed into a pick-up truck with a soldier posing next to them with his thumbs up.

We identified the soldier from his other social media accounts as Ilya Blank.

He posted a second video that includes an image of a blindfolded man on the floor, surrounded by what appear to be three IDF soldiers.

We have located a number of the photos used in his videos to northern Gaza.

After we contacted the IDF and TikTok, the videos were taken down.

Article 13 of the Third Geneva Convention states they must be protected at all times, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against “insults and public curiosity”.

Dr Ellis says the key is “not creating a public curiosity” for prisoners of war and not “degrading them or humiliating them”.

He added: “The idea of walking people through in their underwear and filming that and sending it out certainly would violate that.

“The rules that are set down would not in any way allow this type of act.”

Prof Asa Kasher, an Israeli academic who helped write the IDF’s first code of conduct, said sharing the pictures of half-naked people was against the IDF’s code of ethics.

He said there could be a military need to briefly strip a detainee in order to check if they were armed, but that he could not see a reason for “taking such a picture and sharing it with the public”.

“The reason for holding them half-naked is to humiliate them,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Michael Mansfield said the footage should be assessed by a UN court.

“There is a very severe restriction on on how you deal with people who are detained who are prisoners of war in a time of war or conflict, which this plainly is, and that provision is really one in which you are intended to treat prisoners with respect,” he said.

We sent six videos to TikTok, who confirmed that they were all in violation of their community guidelines. They said their guidelines were clear that content “that seeks to degrade victims of violent tragedies” was not tolerated. The videos have all since disappeared from the platform.

A spokesperson for YouTube said it had removed tens of thousands of harmful videos and terminated thousands of channels during the conflict between Israel and Gaza, and that it had teams are working around the clock to monitor for harmful footage content.

Additional reporting by: Paul Brown, Alex Murray, Paul Myers, Richard Irvine-Brown, and Daniele Palumbo.

Netanyahu orders military to plan Rafah evacuation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the military to prepare to evacuate civilians from the southern Gazan city of Rafah ahead of an expanded offensive against Hamas.

Some 1.5 million Palestinians are in Rafah to seek refuge from Israeli combat operations in the rest of Gaza.

The US has warned Israel an invasion of Rafah would be a “disaster”, while the EU and the UN both expressed concern.

Aid groups say it is not possible to evacuate everyone from the city.

Mr Netanyahu told military and security officials to “submit to the cabinet a combined plan for evacuating the population and destroying the battalions” of Hamas, his office said on Friday.

“It is impossible to achieve the goal of the war without eliminating Hamas, and by leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah. On the contrary, it is clear that intense activity in Rafah requires that civilians evacuate the areas of combat,” the statement added.

Earlier this week, Mr Netanyahu said he had ordered troops to “prepare to operate” in Rafah and that “total victory” by Israel over Hamas was just months away.

He made the comments while rejecting Hamas’s latest proposed ceasefire terms.

Most of the people in Rafah have been displaced by fighting in other parts of Gaza and are living in tents.

On Friday, top EU diplomat Josep Borrell wrote in a post on social media: “Reports of an Israeli military offensive on Rafah are alarming. It would have catastrophic consequences worsening the already dire humanitarian situation & the unbearable civilian toll.”

Earlier in the week, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned of a “humanitarian nightmare” in the city. His spokesman Stéphane Dujarric later added: “We are extremely worried about the fate of civilians in Rafah… I think what is clear is that people need to be protected, but we also do not want to see any forced displacement, forced mass displacement of people”.

Meanwhile, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said there was “a sense of growing anxiety and growing panic in Rafah”.

“People have absolutely no idea where to go after Rafah,” Philippe Lazzarini told reporters in Jerusalem.

“Any large-scale military operation among this population can only lead to an additional layer of endless tragedy that’s unfolding.”

Reported Israeli air strikes on Gaza on Friday killed at least 15 people including eight in Rafah, officials from the Hamas-run health ministry said. Israel did not immediately comment.

Garda al-Kourd, a mother-of-two who said she had been displaced six times during the war, said she was expecting an Israeli assault but hoped there would be a ceasefire agreement before it happened.

“If they come to Rafah, it will be the end for us, like we are waiting for death. We have no other place to go,” she told the BBC from a relative’s house in the city where she was living with 20 other people.

Speaking on Thursday, without directly referring to Rafah, US President Joe Biden said Israel’s actions in Gaza had been “over the top”.

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the Israeli military had a “special obligation as they conduct operations there or anywhere else to make sure that they’re factoring in protection for innocent civilian life”.

“Military operations right now would be a disaster for those people and it’s not something that we would support,” he said.

More than 1,200 people were killed during the Hamas attacks on southern Israel on 7 October, according to Israeli officials.

More than 27,900 Palestinians have been killed and at least 67,000 injured by the war launched by Israel in response, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Rival parties each claim edge in Pakistan election

The jailed former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has claimed victory in Thursday’s general election and called on his supporters to celebrate.

Independent candidates linked to him have won most seats so far, with the majority of seats declared.

But another ex-prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, says his party has emerged the largest and urged others to join him in coalition.

No group or party appears on course to win an overall majority.

In a staunch video message posted on X created using AI, Mr Khan claimed his PTI party had won a “landslide victory” despite what he has called a crackdown on his party.

He is currently in jail over corruption charges which he says are politically motivated.

The success of the PTI-linked candidates was unexpected, with most experts agreeing that Mr Sharif – believed to be backed by the country’s powerful military – was the clear favourite.

  • Against the odds, Khan’s PTI shows support is solid

But the PTI is not a recognised party after being barred from running in the election, so technically Mr Sharif’s PML-N is the largest official political group.

So now the political horse-trading begins in earnest, which means it could still be a while before anyone is able to claim outright victory.

In a speech on Friday, Mr Sharif acknowledged that he did not have the numbers to form a government alone. But addressing supporters outside his party’s headquarters, he urged other candidates to join him in a coalition and said he could remove the country from difficult times.

As results trickled in, the UK and US voiced concerns over restrictions on electoral freedoms during the vote.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said the UK urged authorities in Pakistan “to uphold fundamental human rights including free access to information, and the rule of law”.

In a statement, he went on to express “regret that not all parties were formally permitted to contest the elections”.

Meanwhile, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller accused Pakistan’s elections of including “undue restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly”.

He also cited “attacks on media workers” and “restrictions on access to the internet and telecommunication services” as reasons to worry about “allegations of interference in the electoral process”.

  • Who is really pulling the strings in a divided Pakistan?
  • How Imran Khan plans to win an election from jail

Many analysts have said this is among Pakistan’s least credible elections.

Voters in the city of Lahore told the BBC that the internet blackout on polling day meant it was not possible to book taxis to go and vote, while others said they could not coordinate when to head to polling stations with their family members.

An interior ministry spokesman said the blackouts were necessary for security reasons.

Support from the military in Pakistan is an important accolade to succeed politically, and their support is believed to lie with Mr Sharif and his party.

Maya Tudor, associate professor at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, said the lead taken by Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was “shocking” in the context of the country’s past.

“A win would be remarkable – in every single other election in Pakistan’s recent history, the military’s preferred candidate has won,” Dr Tudor explained.

As many as 128 million people were registered to cast their votes, almost half of whom were under the age of 35. More than 5,000 candidates – of whom just 313 are women – contested 266 directly elected seats in the 336-member National Assembly.

Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, Maleeha Lodhi, said Pakistan “desperately” needs political stability to address what she described as “the worst economic crisis in its history”.

But, in a hopeful note, Ms Lodhi said Pakistan’s voter numbers show a “belief in the democratic process”.

Horner hearing ends without resolution

A hearing into charges of inappropriate and controlling behaviour against Christian Horner has finished without resolution.

The Red Bull team boss was quizzed on Friday by a lawyer for several hours on charges that relate to his behaviour towards a female employee.

A spokesperson for Red Bull said: “It would not be appropriate to comment before the investigation is completed.”

Horner has denied the claims to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, external.

It is unclear whether the matter will be resolved before Red Bull’s 2024 launch at their Milton Keynes factory on 15 February, where their new car is set to be unveiled.

Red Bull are still planning for the event to go ahead.

The investigation into Horner could take weeks, and there are even questions as to whether it will be completed in time for the start of the season.

Pre-season testing takes place in Bahrain from 21-23 February. The first race of the season, also in the Gulf state, is on 1-3 March.

The company said in a statement earlier this week that it was taking the situation “extremely seriously”.

The Horner question will inevitably overshadow Red Bull’s launch. Even if Horner is there, he is unlikely to be able to able to answer questions about it, but it will be a focus of attention in enquiries towards him and drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

The controversy is taking place against a backdrop of reports of splits and tension within Red Bull, among them claims that motorsport adviser Helmut Marko and Jos Verstappen, the father of Red Bull’s three-time world champion Max, have taken against Horner.

Red Bull, Marko and Verstappen have so far been silent on all such matters.

Despite the disruption, Verstappen and Red Bull will start the season as hot favourites to win a fourth consecutive world championship.

The Dutchman, 26, dominated last season, winning 19 of the 22 races among a string other records. Mexican Perez won two of the remaining three races as Red Bull finished first and second in the drivers’ championship for the first time in their history.

Their acclaimed chief technical officer Adrian Newey has said the new car, the RB20, will be an evolution of its ultra-successful predecessor.

Most in F1 expect it to remain the fastest car on the grid; the main question heading into the season is whether any of the team’s main rivals – Mercedes, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston Martin – can close in enough to make the season competitive.

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How polyamory became a ‘new normal’

A TV show has begun in which couples invite a third person into their relationship. Along with new book More: A Memoir of Open Marriage, it reflects the increasing ubiquity of non-monogamy.

“If you were given the chance at non-monogamy in paradise, what would you say?” That’s the premise behind a new US dating show, Couple to Throuple, in which four couples arrive on a tropical island resort “to turn fantasy into reality”. For each of them, that fantasy involves inviting one of 14 glamorous singles to join them in a throuple to see if the polyamorous lifestyle could be for them.

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“This is a safe place for you to dive into that question,” says host Scott Evans, as the couples stand wide-eyed on the sand. In a matter of hours they’re all climbing into bed with a third person (accompanied by night-vision cameras, of course). Fast forward to the next morning and – predictably – things get messy. There are arguments, regrets, and a whole tonne of awkwardness.

Couple to Throuple sees couples deciding whether to introduce a third person into their relationship (Credit: Peacock)

In exploring polyamory, Couple to Throuple might be breaking some new ground for a dating show (though a handful of others, including Channel 4’s Open House: The Great Sex Experiment – which premiered in the UK in 2022 – have already explored what that show described as “one of society’s greatest taboos“), but a sensitive and nuanced exploration of non-monogamous relationships this is not. It’s played for drama from the start. Even so, it’s the latest example of polyamory – or more broadly ethical non-monogamy – hitting the mainstream. Ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term for various different consensual non-exclusive relationships, including open marriages, where couples are romantically monogamous but not sexually. Polyamory specifically refers to having multiple romantic relationships at the same time.

In the last few weeks, ethical non-monogamy has taken over the cultural conversation. In January, New York Magazine ran a cover story on polyamory, arguing that it is, if not mainstream, then increasingly common. It featured an in-depth guide on how to open up relationships and a report on a polycule (a network of people in non-monogamous relationships).

It coincided with the release of a new book, More: A Memoir of Open Marriage by Molly Roden Winter. The author, a 51-year-old former teacher, details the open marriage she and her husband embarked on in 2008. Since publication, it’s garnered huge coverage and spurned countless think pieces (How Did Polyamory Become So Popular? asked The New Yorker).

According to Pew Research, 51% of adults under 30 in the US think that open marriage is acceptable

Polyamory, open relationships, free love, non-exclusive arrangements… however you choose to describe it, ethical non-monogamy is certainly nothing new. The term polyamory, where both partners can have multiple intimate relationships at the same time (not to be confused with polygamy, where one person has multiple partners) originated in the early 1990s, though multi-partner relationships have dated back decades, or even centuries.

The Ethical Slut, published in 1997, is known as the original bible of ethical non-monogamy — though for decades it still felt like the subject was on the fringes. More recently though, leading sex therapists like Esther Perel have brought polyamory into the public discussion.

On screen, TV and movies are starting to explore less conventional relationship models. In last year’s Passages, one half of a gay married couple begins a heterosexual relationship with a woman. Upcoming Luca Guadagnino film Challengers, starring Zendaya, has been described as a “polyamorous tennis romp” – though it’s not clear whether the threesome hinted at in the trailer extends to a full-on relationship.

More than a fashion

However this idea that polyamory is “in vogue”, is causing some pushback. The author of More resides in Brooklyn’s affluent Park Slope neighbourhood and, coupled, with the New York Magazine article, there’s scepticism over polyamory being packaged up as the latest lifestyle choice for well-off urbanites. “The very class of Americans who most reap the benefits of marriage are the same class who get to declare monogamy passé and boring,” writes Tyler Austin Harper in The Atlantic.

Yet statistics do back up the idea that it’s becoming more common. According to Pew Research, 51% of adults under 30 in the US think that open marriage is acceptable – while YouGov data shows a third of Americans describe their ideal relationship as something other than complete monogamy.

Writer Molly Roden Winter has made headlines with her new book about her open marriage (Credit: Nina Sudin)

“I’ve definitely seen more people who are open to or wanting to explore polyamory over the last couple of years,” says sex and relationship therapist Rhian Kivits. “Some of these clients have been couples who have wanted to consider how they can open their marriages or long-term relationships up and others have been singles who have wanted to explore how polyamory could fit into their lives and understand more about why they are drawn to the idea.”

However, in Kivits’ experience, it’s almost exclusively clients under 40 who want to discuss the idea, she says, adding that social media – and TikTok especially – has given young people a platform to talk about their experiences with non-ethical monogamy and how it works for them. “This has served to normalise and demystify polyamory and to some extent, make it more widely accepted because the content being shared is relatable for many people. It’s also helped clear up a misconception that polyamory is all about sex or swinging – it’s about connection and relating.” Dating apps like Feeld have also made it easier to navigate non-monogamy.

Younger couples that come and see me, those in their 20s or early 30s, are completely cool with polyamory and some of them are in ethical non-monogamous relationships – Lucy Cavendish

Couples therapist Lucy Cavendish, host of the Later Dater podcast and author of forthcoming book How to Have Extraordinary Relationships, agrees that it’s younger generations that are driving change. “Younger couples that come and see me, those in their 20s or early 30s, are completely cool with polyamory and some of them are in ethical non-monogamous relationships,” she says. But even older couples – especially those for whom one is now much less interested in sex than the other – are more willing to consider an open marriage. “When I say ask if they have considered ethical non-monogamy, a lot of them are more open to it that than they probably were 10 years ago.”

So perhaps it’s no surprise that popular culture is racing to reflect this apparent shift in attitudes – even if it doesn’t always get it right. One major criticism about Couple to Throuple – particularly from the non-monogamy community on Reddit – is that it’s presenting an extremely narrow view of non-monogamous relationships. The focus is on existing couples adding a third component to their relationship, rather than seeking out new connections independently. All but one of the couples – at least in the first three episodes – consist of a man and a woman looking for a bisexual woman. While most of the “singles” on the show have had previous experience with polyamory and are in it for real, it feels more like the couples are just trying it on for size.

The trailer for new film Challengers suggests the drama hinges on a threesome situation – but will that extend to a polyamorous one? (Credit: Alamy)

It’s not the only recent pop cultural depiction of polyamory that’s drawn ire from the community.

Teen drama Riverdale ended its run last year by placing four of the main characters in a four-way romantic relationship. “It’s frustrating that Riverdale used its characters’ non-monogamous relationship as a ‘shocking twist’ rather than engaging with an authentic portrayal of non-monogamy as simply being part of people’s identities,” said Brett Chamberlain, Executive Director of OPEN (Organisation for Polyamory and Ethical Non Monogamy).

TV and film might have some way to go in their depictions of polyamorous relationships, but Lucy Cavendish thinks that questioning the default of monogamy is, overall, a helpful thing – even if the reality is not for everyone. “It’s about your levels of security. A lot of people don’t like it because they’re terrified the person they love is going to leave them and we’re hard-wired not to want that to happen,” she says. “But I think broadening out our dialogue around relationships and sex is a really helpful thing to do.”

The first three episodes of Couple to Throuple are streaming now on Peacock in the US, with new episodes premiering weekly throughout February.

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