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Images showing Israeli soldiers stripping and 'humiliating' Palestinians spark outrage

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Palestinian and Arab officials say they are outraged over images of scores of Palestinian men stripped to their underwear under the guard of Israeli soldiers. Meanwhile, the United States is being criticized for vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war. For more, we turn now to NPR's Frank Langfitt in Tel Aviv. Frank, thanks for being with us.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: It's good to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Please, for those who haven't seen them, describe these images and what the reaction has been.

LANGFITT: I think one of the most striking ones was this video panning dozens of men. They're sitting on a street, and their heads are bowed. They're in their underwear. And there're Israeli soldiers milling about on the sidewalk. And Egypt's foreign minister called the images catastrophic and said they degraded the men. And the International Committee of the Red Cross also expressed a lot of concern.

SIMON: How do the Israelis respond?

LANGFITT: Well, the army here, they're saying they discovered these guys in an area where civilians were supposed to have been evacuated weeks ago, and they're now saying they were checking to see, you know, who of them might actually be Hamas fighters. Israeli TV aired the footage, which is thought to have been taken by soldiers, but it's not entirely clear. Now, a Gaza resident did tell a news organization that these men were sheltering with others in a school in northern Gaza, and Israeli forces just rounded them up and then forced them to strip to their underwear.

SIMON: Why would soldiers order them to strip down?

LANGFITT: Well, this is a common practice by Israeli military forces. Particularly, you see this in the West Bank. And they say it's to make sure there are no bomb vests or weapons. But I was talking to a man named Shlomo Brom. He's a retired brigadier general with the Israeli army. And I asked him about these images, and this is what he told me.

SHLOMO BROM: These pictures should not be publicized because they are humiliating.

LANGFITT: And why do you think someone might have put them out?

BROM: They might think that it is good to raise morale in Israel or maybe it is good as a kind of psychological war against Hamas.

LANGFITT: And, Scott, I have to emphasize, Brom is just speaking for himself, not the military. And we still don't know exactly where these images came from.

SIMON: Is there any way to verify if they are, in fact, Hamas fighters?

LANGFITT: Not yet. You know, Israel has, effectively, a ban on journalists going to Gaza. But it's clear already that some of the people in these images are not from Hamas. NPR's confirmed that one person shown is in fact a journalist for a media outlet close to Qatar. And our colleague Leila Fadel, she spoke with the United Nations aid administrator in the United States. And he actually recognized some of his own family members in the images. This man's name is Hani Almadhoun. Hani said he recognized his brother Mahmoud in the back of an Israeli army truck. And he said there's no way his brother could be working with Hamas.

HANI ALMADHOUN: I mean, I know my brother. He can't run two meters, let alone to be a fighter. You know, he's just a shopkeeper in Gaza.

LANGFITT: Hani says he found the images revealing, and he also thinks they contain a political message.

ALMADHOUN: I'm beginning to understand this war is not just on Hamas. This is just a much bigger war on our own existence, our own identity. And this is the images that communicate that we are defeated people.

SIMON: Frank, of course, the war began with Hamas killing about 1,200 people in southern Israel in a surprise attack on October 7. Since then, Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 17,000 people in Gaza, according to the health ministry there. We know the U.S. has been trying to put more pressure on Israelis to reduce civilian casualties. What's the Israeli response been like?

LANGFITT: Well, I think they are listening, and they say they're doing what they can. And they have to listen to the Americans 'cause the Americans are providing the weapons. But Israeli analysts this week told me that they think the U.S. is going to give more time to Israel to cripple Hamas, even if it costs more civilian lives and generates more anger and criticism of the U.S. and Israel here and overseas.

SIMON: NPR's Frank Langfitt in Tel Aviv. Thanks so much for being with us.

LANGFITT: Good to talk, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.