Project Nimbus: How Google and Amazon made billions from the Israeli occupation
“We are anonymous because we fear reprisals.” This sentence was part of a letter signed by 500 Google employees last October, in which they denounced their company’s direct support of the Israeli government and army.
In their letter, the signatories protested a $1.2 billion contract between Google, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and the Israeli government that provides cloud services to the Israeli military and government that “enables increased surveillance and unlawful collection of data on Palestinians , and facilitates the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land”.
It’s called the Nimbus project. The project was announced in 2018 and came into force in May 2021, during the first week of Israel’s war on beleaguered Gaza, which has killed more than 250 Palestinians and injured many more.
Google employees were not only disturbed that by entering into this agreement with Israel, their company was directly implicated in the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but were also outraged by the “worrying pattern of militarization” that has seen similar contracts between Google – Amazon, Microsoft and other tech giants – with the US military, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other law enforcement agencies.
In one article Posted in The nation magazine in June, three respected American academics exposed the financial component of Amazon’s decision to get involved in such an immoral business, saying that these military-related contracts had “become a major source of profit for Amazon.” It is estimated, according to the article, that AWS alone was responsible for 63% of Amazon’s profits in 2020.
The slogan “people before profit” cannot be more appropriate than in the Palestinian context, and neither Google nor Amazon can pretend to ignore it. The Israeli occupation of Palestine has been in place for decades and numerous United Nations resolutions have sentenced Israel for its occupation, colonial expansion and violence against the Palestinians. If all that wasn’t enough to dissipate Google and Amazon’s enthusiasm to engage in projects specifically aimed at protecting Israel’s “national security” – read: continued occupation of Palestine – a report damning statement from Israel’s largest human rights group, B’tselem should have served as a wake-up call.
B’tselem declared Israel an apartheid state in January 2021. International rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) monitoring trial in April, also denouncing the Israeli apartheid state. It was only a few weeks before the Nimbus project was declared. It was as if Google and Amazon were deliberately declaring their support for apartheid. The fact that the project was signed during Israel’s war on Gaza speaks volumes about the two tech giants’ utter disregard for international law, human rights and the very freedom of the Palestinian people.
It’s getting worse. On March 15, hundreds of Google employees sign a petition protesting against the dismissal of one of their colleagues, Ariel Koren, who was actively involved in drafting the October letter of protest against the Nimbus project. Koren was a product marketing manager at Google for Education and has worked for the company for six years. However, she was the kind of employee who was not welcomed by Google, as the company is now directly involved in various military and security projects.
“For me, as a Jewish Google employee, I feel a deep sense of intense moral responsibility,” she said. noted in a press release last October. “When you work in a company, you have the right to be responsible for how your work is actually used,” she added.
Google quickly retaliated to this seemingly outrageous statement. The following month, Koren’s manager “presented him with an ultimatum: move to Brazil or lose his job”. Eventually, she was kicked out of the business.
Koren wasn’t the first Google — or Amazon — employee to be fired for standing up for a good cause, and sadly she wouldn’t be the last. In the era of militarism, surveillance, unwarranted facial recognition and censorship, speaking your mind and daring to fight for human rights and other fundamental freedoms is no longer a option.
Amazon warehouses can be as bad as, or even worse than, a typical sweatshop. Last March, and after a brief denial, Amazon apologized to force its employees to pee in water bottles – and worse – so their managers can fulfill their required quotas. Apologies followed direct evidence provided by the investigative journalism site, The interception. However, the company which is accused of numerous violations of workers’ rights – including its commitment to “busting unions” – is unlikely to back down anytime soon, especially when so many profits are at stake.
But profits generated by market monopoly, worker abuse or other misconduct are different from profits generated by directly contributing to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although human rights abuses should be avoided everywhere, regardless of their context, Israel’s war against the Palestinian people, now with the direct aid of such corporations, remains one of the gravest injustices that continue to mark the conscience of humanity. No amount of justification from Google or rationalization from Amazon can change the fact that 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 settlements by “supporting data from the Israel Lands Authority (ILA), the government agency that manages and allocates state land.” These settlements, 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 the israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, the Nimbus project is “the most lucrative tender launched by Israel in recent years”. The project, which has sparked a “secret war” involving top IDF generals – all vying for a share of the profits – has also whetted the appetite of many other international tech companies, all eager to be part of the technological dynamics of Israel, with the ultimate goal of keeping the Palestinians trapped, occupied and oppressed.
This is precisely why the Palestinian boycott movement is absolutely critical because it targets these international companies, which migrate to Israel in search of profits. Israel, on the contrary, should be boycotted, not allowed; sanctioned and not rewarded. While profit generation is naturally the primary goal of companies like Google and Amazon, this goal can be achieved without necessarily requiring the subjugation of an entire people, who are currently the victims of the world’s last apartheid regime.