Amazon Is Investing in AI-Assisted Apartheid in Palestine

Since 2014, Amazon has been pouring billions into Israel, contributing to illegal settlement programs and the relentless surveillance of Palestinians. Israel’s dystopian end goal: to compile biometric profiles and security ratings for every resident of the West Bank.

An Israeli soldier uses an unmanned surveillance drone to monitor Palestinian stone throwers in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron on September 30, 2015. (Hazem Bader / AFP via Getty Images)

“Where is Ahmad?” Israeli military forces demanded after boarding a bus from Ramallah headed toward Jerusalem.

They were looking for me.

As a Palestinian dual national with a Palestinian ID, I cannot visit areas of occupied Palestine without a special permit called a Tasree7, which takes several months to obtain. After locating me on the bus, Israeli forces violently removed me; an armed soldier then scanned my face, passport, and other personal information and told me the information will be “permanently recorded” in their system and used against me if I attempt to make the journey again. (I was on a religious pilgrimage to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque.)

My treatment was hardly an anomaly. Israel’s apartheid state and occupation are being sponsored by tech giants, with artificial intelligence (AI) and other surveillance technologies used to deepen the longstanding repression of Palestinians. In 2021’s Operation Guardian of the Walls, which saw Israel bombard the Gaza Strip with airstrikes, leaving one thousand Palestinians displaced and 256 dead, “AI was a force multiplier,” according to an Israeli official. In the years since, companies like Amazon have powered what a recent Amnesty International report dubbed “automated apartheid.” Amazon announced just recently that it would invest another $7.2 billion in Israel through 2037 and extend its web services to the country.

The company claims the benefactors of Amazon Web Services (AWS) will be “Israeli entrepreneurs and businesses.” In reality, the primary winner will be the military. AWS will expand “Project Nimbus,” which provides the cloud service ecosystem for Israel, primarily serving the country’s military. (Google also invests in Project Nimbus.)

The project will allow Israeli forces to obtain and retain data on Palestinians and surveil them with facial recognition, clamping down on the right to protest and making Palestinians warier of, say, appearing at a demonstration. Even if they aren’t detained at the protest itself, Palestinians know the numerous watchtowers and checkpoints will capture their faces and they could be arrested later or banned from visiting certain sites. Amnesty International’s report found that protests outside Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate plummeted after the various watchtowers and cameras were erected.

The ties between Israel and Amazon run deep. As of 2019, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) had been supplied by Amazon with 80 percent of its aircrafts. Buoyed by Amazon’s investment, IAI is implementing autonomous “robo-snipers” and drones across Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

The implications for Palestinians at any of the one hundred plus checkpoints across the West Bank are frightening. Israeli soldiers haven’t distinguished themselves as paragons of morality in their role as occupiers. But human error or miscalculation in murdering Palestinians beats highly intelligent technology that does not give second thought to inputted commands.

In two West Bank refugee camps, for instance, turrets armed with a lens and gun look out over protests. Using AI to identify targets, soldiers — safely removed from the fracas — can simply press a remote to shoot stun grenades, tear gas, or sponged-tipped bullets.

Israeli soldiers haven’t distinguished themselves as paragons of morality in their role as occupiers. But further isolating soldiers from the potentially lethal implications of their decisions can only produce more brutality. As a spokeswoman for the rights group B’Tselem told the Associated Press last year, “Israel is using technology as a means to control the civil population.”

This is the kind of oppression Amazon is fueling.

The company began pouring money into Israel in 2014, the same year Israel invaded the Gaza Strip and killed two thousand Palestinians (a quarter of whom were children). Since then, Amazon has continually aided the occupation, with many illegal settlers employed by the AWS network requiring security clearance. This year alone, AI has facilitated the murder of more than two hundred Palestinians, the destruction of 290 Palestinian-owned buildings, and the displacement of thousands. Amnesty International found that automated weapons, spyware, and unauthorized biometric systems are constantly being used to strip Palestinians of their basic human rights to privacy and freedom of movement.

Since 1967, over six hundred thousand Israeli settlers have moved into the West Bank — settlers on the stolen land of millions of displaced Palestinians — and Amazon Web Service will only propel the expansion of illegal settlement projects. AWS will support data for the Israel Land Authority, the agency that dictates which Palestinian village or town will be ethnically cleansed to make way for Jewish-only settlements.

Amazon Web Services will also work in tandem with Israel’s Pegasus spyware, its primary method of obtaining private information. Pegasus infiltrates mobile phones and harvests personal and location data without the user’s knowledge. Under its “Wolf Pack” program — fortified by Amazon Web Services — Israel aims to house the profiles of every Palestinian in the West Bank, storing their biometrics, family histories, and security ratings. These ratings are used on the ground as soldiers scan and search Palestinians, deciding whether to imprison or kill those deemed “security threats” (an inaccurate term, since Palestinians have a legal right to armed resistance under the Geneva and Hague Conventions of the United Nations).

Imagine living your life under constant threat of armed surveillance. Every movement tracked, every angle of your face scanned, every word listened to. What little freedom you have as an occupied human being, stolen.

Israel should be boycotted, not enabled by tech giants like Amazon fueling the apartheid state.