How Google and Amazon help Israel sustain its apartheid
The words, “We are anonymous because we fear retaliation,” were part of a letter signed by 500 Google employees last October, when they decried their company’s direct support for the Israeli government and military. In their letter, the signatories protested a $1.2 billion contract between Google, Amazon Web Services and Tel Aviv that provides cloud services for the Israeli military and government that allow “for further surveillance of and unlawful data collection on Palestinians, and facilitates expansion of Israel’s illegal settlements on Palestinian land.”
This is called Project Nimbus. The project was announced in 2018 and came into effect in May 2021 in the first week of the Israeli war on besieged Gaza, which killed more than 250 Palestinians and wounded many more.
The Google employees were disturbed by the fact that, by entering into this agreement with Israel, their company had become directly involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. But they were equally outraged by the “disturbing pattern of militarization” that had seen similar contracts agreed by Google, Amazon, Microsoft and other tech giants with the US military, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and other policing agencies.
In an article published in The Nation newspaper last June, three respected US academics revealed the financial component of Amazon’s decision to get involved in such an immoral business, arguing that such military-linked contracts have “become a major source of profit for Amazon.” They reported that AWS alone was responsible for 63 percent of Amazon’s profits in 2020.
The maxim “people before profit” cannot be more appropriate than in the Palestinian context and neither Google nor Amazon can claim ignorance. The Israeli occupation of Palestine has been in place for decades and numerous UN resolutions have condemned Israel for its occupation, colonial expansion and violence against Palestinians. If all that were not enough to wane the enthusiasm of Google and Amazon to engage in projects that specifically aim at protecting Israel’s “national security” — i.e., continued occupation of Palestine — a damning report by Israel’s largest human rights group, B’Tselem, should have served as a wake-up call.
B’Tselem last January declared Israel to be an apartheid state. The international rights group Human Rights Watch followed suit in April. That was only a few weeks before Project Nimbus was declared. It was as if Google and Amazon were purposely declaring their support of apartheid. The fact that the project began during the Israeli war on Gaza speaks volumes about the two tech giants’ complete disregard of international law, human rights and the freedom of the Palestinian people.
No amount of Google justification or Amazon rationalization can change the fact they are facilitating Israeli war crimes in Palestine.
It gets worse. Just last week, hundreds of Google workers signed a petition accusing the company of “unjustly retaliating” against one of their colleagues, Ariel Koren, who was active in generating the October letter. Koren was a product marketing manager at Google for Education and has worked for the company for six years. However, she is the kind of employee who is seemingly no longer welcomed by Google, as the company is now directly involved in various military and security projects.
“For me, as a Jewish employee of Google, I feel a deep sense of intense moral responsibility,” she wrote in a statement last October. “When you work in a company, you have the right to be accountable and responsible for the way that your labor is actually being used,” she added. Google quickly responded to that statement. The following month, her manager “presented her with an ultimatum: Move to Brazil or lose her position.”
Koren was not the first Google — or Amazon — employee to apparently be punished for standing up for a good cause, nor will she be the last. In this age of militarism, surveillance, unwarranted facial recognition and censorship, speaking one’s mind and daring to fight for human rights and other basic freedoms is no longer an option.
Last year, Amazon apologized for denying that some of its workers had to urinate in water bottles. The apology followed the publication of direct evidence by investigative journalism website The Intercept. However, the company, which stands accused of numerous violations of worker rights — including its engagement in “union-busting” — is not expected to reverse course any time soon, especially when huge profits are at stake.
But profits generated from a market monopoly and the mistreatment of workers are different from profits generated through contributing directly to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Though human rights violations should be shunned everywhere, regardless of their context, Israel’s war on the Palestinian people, which now has the help of these tech giants, remains one of the gravest injustices that continues to scar the consciousness of humankind. No amount of Google justification or Amazon rationalization can change the fact they are facilitating Israeli war crimes in Palestine.
To be more precise, according to The Nation, the Google-Amazon cloud service will help Israel expand its illegal Jewish-only settlements by “supporting data for the Israel Land Authority, the government agency that manages and allocates state land.” These settlements, which are repeatedly condemned by the international community, are built on Palestinian land and are directly linked to the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Project Nimbus was “perhaps the most lucrative tender issued by Israel in recent years.” The project, which has ignited a “secretive war” involving top Israeli army generals — all vying for a share of the profit — has also whetted the appetite of many other international tech companies. They all want to be part of Israel’s technology drive, which has the ultimate aim of keeping Palestinians entrapped, occupied and oppressed.
This is precisely why the Palestinian boycott movement is absolutely critical, as it targets the international companies that are migrating to Israel in search of profits. Israel, meanwhile, should be boycotted, not enabled, and sanctioned, not rewarded. While profit generation is understandably the main goal of companies like Google and Amazon, this goal can be achieved without requiring the subjugation of a whole people, who are already the victims of an apartheid regime.
• Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com.