26 Jul 2022
It’s been months since the last operation by Israeli armed forces caught public attention, but today we hear from members of Workers Against Project Nimbus, a major military contract for cloud computing. This coalition of workers at Google and Amazon and community members discuss the origin, vision, and impact of their efforts in the face of extreme pushback by management and fellow workers – and how they continue to grow.
The Worker’s Perspective
We are tech workers who don’t want our labor to be used to fuel Israeli apartheid, violence, and oppression against Palestinians, so we’re organizing.
First, before we share our story, we have an invitation: join us for a community briefing this Thursday, July 28 at 5:30pm Pacific/8:30pm Eastern. The call is hosted by Jewish Diaspora in Tech, but a broad range of Google and Amazon workers will share their concerns with the harms of their companies’ contract with the Israeli military and government and exciting opportunities for tech workers to get involved–including taking direct action together. Now, let’s go back to May 2021. Israeli military bombs dropped on Gaza and killed over 250 Palestinians, including over 60 children, and images of Palestinian activists defending their ancestral homes from settlers and Israeli military forces spread on social media.
Around this time, we found out that our companies, Amazon and Google, had signed a $1.2 billion “Project Nimbus” cloud contract with the Israeli military and government. We were reeling, experiencing so many emotions at the same time. One of our Palestinian comrades organizing with us put it this way:
You have to understand, during the bombing of Gaza in 2021, we as Palestinian tech workers felt completely unsafe at work. For that week, we were going to work each day, but we weren’t really present or in our bodies. We were like zombies. There are no words to describe what we were feeling at that moment, when we witnessed what the Israeli military and government was doing to our families. Our loved ones in Gaza were running from one house to the other every minute to seek refuge. And there was nothing we could do for them.
To be going through all of that at work and to not be able to speak freely about what we were going through – it was isolating and traumatizing. We couldn’t express our feelings or solidarity without being reported to Human Resources – even while our community and in some cases our families were being attacked.
And then we find out that in that precise moment of suffering our companies had signed the Project Nimbus contract? We wanted to just rip our hearts out of our chests and stop working. Everybody was trying to figure out a way to get another job and get out. How could we possibly continue working here?
We realized that our companies would soon be enabling such violence, what Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have deemed a kind of apartheid. What’s more, we had to face the fact that those of us Palestinian tech workers with family and loved ones in Gaza or the West Bank, those of us living in diaspora, would now be enabling violence and oppression against our own communities – all while professing the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
We as workers – the very people that make our companies run and make them profitable –were deliberately kept in the dark until the last possible moment about this contract to avoid worker protest. In our experience, even for those of us who work in non-cloud departments, contracts of this scope and magnitude are advertised and celebrated across our companies, pointing to the fact that company leadership knew that they would face “inconvenient” ethical opposition by their own workforce. We also learned, along with the rest of the world, that the contract included [a provision])https://www.datacenterdynamics.com/en/news/israel-government-says-aws-and-google-cant-boycott-nimbus-project/_ that stipulated that neither Amazon nor Google could have a say in providing or not providing services to any particular institution in the Israeli military or government. Even if our companies wanted to act more ethically, they had signed away their rights to do so.
In that moment, we started to find each other and build community on company-hosted platforms and, eventually, outside of them. On a company platform, someone would see a coworker posting an article or a petition, or a letter to management, and we immediately jumped on the opportunity to connect with another like-minded coworker.
It was through those communities of support that we found other worker activists – Palestinian, anti-Zionist Jewish, Muslim, Arab, and other allies – who wanted to work together to change our situation. The same co-organizer elaborates:
To find other workers at Google and Amazon who were organizing, who were taking action to end this harmful contract – that was incredible. While I had once felt detached from what was going on – like there was nothing I could do – now I had an outlet. Other coworkers who had connections with human rights organizations and community groups that wanted to support us secured all types of backing for us; from legal support so that we knew our rights and could feel safe and secure speaking out, to support with contacting press interested in amplifying our voices, to organizing support in getting dozens of human rights and racial justice organizations to come out in support of us publically.
This level of support – from other tech workers, from coworkers, from community organizations – was something that a lot of us had never had in our entire lives.
In June of 2021, we built a joint Amazon-Google committee and started talking about our fears about the harm this technology would cause – as well as what we could do about it. The cloud technology we build, market, and research would now be used to host an apartheid identification system – one that determines individuals’ freedom of movement and rights based on their identity and where they are born. Such tech would be used to store massive amounts of information collected about Palestinians – from capturing CCTV footage and taking photos at checkpoints and even biometric data – that could be used to surveil and criminalize civilians. Apartheid Israeli government ministries such as the Israeli Land Authority, which systematically segregates and confines Palestinians while allowing for illegal settlement expansion for Jewish Israelis, would use this tech.
In mid October 2021, we went public to protest the contract, and received an outpouring of support from human rights and civil society groups, who began campaigning alongside us. Over 50 groups endorsed the campaign in support of our worker organizing and spurred almost 40,000 people to send petitions to Google, Google Cloud, Amazon, and Amazon Web Services executives calling on our bosses to end Project Nimbus and respect worker voices. Supporting legal organizations, such as Palestine Legal, the National Lawyers Guild, Law4BlackLives, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, sent letters to our companies’ supporting our organizing and reminding our bosses of our protections under state and federal law. Our organizing and the supporting community campaign was all over the news, and instead of shrink, we continued to grow.
Now, we have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of a long legacy of worker participation in the Palestine solidarity movement and racial justice movements to end apartheid. For example, port workers worldwide – in Italy, South Africa, and West Coast of the US – collaborated with local community organizations, answering the call to refuse to unload Israeli shipments of cargo and munitions in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation and apartheid. These actions follow in a long tradition of worker organizing. In 1970s, Polaroid workers joined the call for boycotting apartheid in South Africa after they discovered that their company was partnering with the South African government manufacture apartheid IDs and documents.
As the workers that build, design, market, research, and sell the technology enabling Israeli apartheid, we have tremendous power in ensuring that our labor is not used to further violations of human rights.
So we’re organizing with students and community organizations to leverage our power as tech workers. We’re collaborating with students at key universities who are refusing to work or take internships at Google and Amazon until these companies stop doing business with Israeli apartheid – hoping to show leadership that the next generation of bright, diverse recruits in our industry want companies to value human rights, not enable violence and oppression. We’re building connections across companies of tech workers who don’t want their labor being used to violate Palestinian human rights so that we can, together, organize to make sure that our companies are not complicit in oppression and apartheid. Here’s what you can do:
- Come to the #NoTechForApartheid campaign briefing this Thursday, July 28 at 5:30pm Pacific/8:30pm Eastern – register here
- Follow us on Twitter @dropnimbus
- Learn more about your company’s role in state violence – from prisons, to immigration detention facilities, to the Israeli occupation and apartheid – with the American Friend Service Committee’s Investigate database
Thank you to the TWC crew for championing our organizing and helping us develop our narrative. We’re grateful to be in community with a broad and diverse set of allies.