Amazon isn’t just
your one-stop shop for household items; Google is more than an
internet search engine. These corporations are supplying Israel with
the technology to enforce and deepen its occupation and apartheid
over Palestinians. Israel has a long, documented
record of violating human
rights and international law.
The best-selling Irish
novelist Sally Rooney is openly shunning
Israel after recent reports from human rights groups warned that
Israel practices apartheid, systematically oppressing Palestinians
under its rule.
But while Israel risks
becoming a pariah among some cultural producers, it is being
aggressively embraced by globe-spanning corporations like Amazon and
Google – among the wealthiest companies in history.
The two tech giants are
not just lining up to do business with Israel. They are actively
working to build and improve the technological infrastructure Israel
needs to surveil Palestinians and confine them to the ghettos
Israel’s army has created for them.
collaboration on Israel’s Project Nimbus, both companies are
helping to remove any pressure on Israel to make peace with the
Palestinians and are instead becoming partners in Israeli apartheid.
Now workers for both
companies are speaking out – most of them anonymously for fear of
what they call “retaliation.”
This month some 400
employees of the two companies published a letter in The Guardian
newspaper warning that Amazon and Google were contracted to supply
“dangerous technology” to the Israeli military and government
that would make Israel’s rule over Palestinians “even crueler and
The $1.2 billion contract
for Project Nimbus awarded earlier this year means the two tech firms
are to build data centers in Israel on behalf of the Israeli military
Senior staff will need
Israeli security clearance to work on the project.
In a sign of how aware
Israel is of the potential backlash against Amazon and Google’s
involvement, the contract bars
the tech corporations from withdrawing due to pressure from either
employees or the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS)
movement. The terms of the contracts are also being kept under wraps
to prevent scrutiny.
The tech giants’ wish
to avoid publicity is understandable. Each pays lip service to
ethical business practices. Google claims
that firms “can make money without doing evil,” while Amazon’s
“leadership principles” state
a commitment to “make better, do better and be better.”
Providing Israel with the
technological tools to better enforce both its belligerent military
occupation and its apartheid policies privileging Jews over
Palestinians looks suspiciously like making a lot of money from
colluding with evil.
In the words of the
whistleblowing staff, Amazon and Google’s collaboration allows
“further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on
Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal
settlements on Palestinian land.”
Neither Amazon nor Google
responded to a request for comment on the concerns raised in the
Two employees, Gabriel
Schubiner, a software engineer at Google, and Bathool Syed, a content
strategist at Amazon, went
public on NBC’s website shortly after publication of the letter
in The Guardian.
They gave examples of how
Israel would be able to use Amazon and Google’s computer services
to help enforce the occupation. Data would be used to identify
Palestinian homes for demolition,
in what are often moves towards land clearances by Israel to build or
expand illegal settlements.
And the information
collected and stored on the servers would guide attacks on built-up
areas in Gaza, which Israel has been blockading for the past 15
years. In previous military campaigns, Israel has bombed Palestinian
hospitals, schools and universities.
Amazon and Google’s
servers will also assist
Israel’s Iron Dome missile interception system, which has helped
Israel neutralize rockets from Gaza so that it can maintain an
quiet from Palestinians as it keeps them caged and imposes a
diet for the enclave’s inhabitants.
The two employees also
noted that Amazon and Google will be directly implicated in Israel’s
wider apartheid policies of the kind criticized
earlier in the year by human rights groups, including the Israeli
occupation watchdog B’Tselem.
Nimbus will serve the
Israel Lands Authority, which not only allocates lands for illegal
settlements but oversees
discriminatory policies in land allocation inside Israel that openly
privilege Jews over the fifth of the Israeli population who are
Israel claims these
so-called Israeli Arabs are equal citizens but they suffer systematic
discrimination, as B’Tselem and the New York-based Human Rights
Watch have highlighted.
Amazon and Google have
ignored previous calls from staff to prioritize Palestinian rights
over increased profits from colluding in Israel’s war economy.
In May many hundreds –
again anonymously – urged
both companies to sever their ties to the Israeli military shortly
after it killed
almost 260 Palestinians, including more than 60 children, in an
attack on besieged Gaza.
Figures published this
month demonstrated Israel’s central place in the global digital
economy. Despite its tiny size, Israel’s share of hi-tech
investments now amounts
to a third of those made in European countries.
Israel has particularly
benefited from the growing demand in the West for its surveillance
technologies, cyber weapons and developments in militarized
artificial intelligence. The Israeli military and offshoot startups
launched by retired soldiers have a competitive
that their technologies have been “battle proven” on Palestinians
in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
According to reports in
local media, Israel is poised to become a “global data crossroads.”
In addition to Amazon and Google, Microsoft, Oracle and IBM are all
to build server farms in Israel to cash in on the greater integration
of digital and military technologies.
role of Israel in hi-tech –from its Intel
chip plant to firms like AnyVision and Onavo that offer
specialist surveillance, facial recognition and data-mining
technologies– means no one can afford to fall out with Israel.
Google and Facebook have
criticisms for their work with Israel censoring Palestinians on
social media or making them invisible on online maps.
The anonymous staff
signing the letter to Amazon and Google sound nostalgic for the days
when, they write, the technology they built was designed “to serve
and uplift people everywhere.”
But the reality is that
tech firms like Amazon and Google have long moved past simple online
services such as helping us to buy a book or search for a recipe. The
drive for profits, the need to keep competitors at bay and an
incentive to avoid state regulation mean they have become key players
assisting the “national security state.”
As well as its notorious
initiatives, Amazon has increased
the surveillance powers of US state and local police forces and of
services that have been harshly criticized for separating
asylum-seeking families at the US-Mexico border.
From early on, Google
with, or received money from, the CIA, the National Security Agency,
the Pentagon and the US State Department.
The 400 or so anonymous
employees still hope they can replicate previous victories that ended
the tech corporations’ complicity in oppression and military
In 2019 Google pulled
out of Project Dragonfly, intended to help China censor its
population’s online searches. And the year before it ditched
Project Maven to assist the Pentagon with drone
But China was an official
enemy, and the Pentagon is still pressing
ahead with the drone project, reportedly aided by firms backed by
investment funds owned by Google parent Alphabet and a startup tied
to a former Google executive, among others, to do the work Google
itself had to abandon.
Getting either Amazon or
Google to honor their public commitments to ethical behavior by
withdrawing from Project Nimbus may prove much harder – and not
only because of the contractual obligations Israel has insisted on.
Israel has become too
integral to the global surveillance and war industries for any tech
giant to risk antagonizing it. With profits galore to be derived from
closer collaboration with the military industrial complex, the
pressure will be on to forge closer bonds with Israel, whatever its
human rights record.
And with the Israel lobby
deeply ensconced in Western capitals, the tech corporations will not
wish to risk the reputational damage of being tarred as anti-Semitic
for boycotting Israel.
Pressure may be mounting
on many companies to distance themselves from Israel over its
occupation and apartheid policies. But for Amazon and Google it is
those very practices of occupation and apartheid that are a tech seam
waiting to be mined.