The gospel according to Google: the role of technologies and Big Tech in the Palestinian genocide

Posted by Sandías on January 12, 2024 · 23 mins read
Digital technologies are being used to wage war, persecute and repress the Palestinian population, and control the narrative on an international scale.

Digital technology is playing an important and dangerous role in the genocide of the Palestinian people. As the Israeli occupation progresses and the siege of the Palestinian population intensifies, the network of technologies, companies and businesses that sponsor and facilitate the massacre also becomes evident. Beyond the war technology that Zionism has always boasted about, on this occasion technology for civilian use also has a determining role. In this article we analyze the use of digital technologies, particularly artificial intelligence systems, in waging war, persecuting, and repressing the Palestinian population, and manipulating the global narrative.

Cutting-edge genocide automation technology: Gospel, the AI ​​that selects targets in Gaza.

An investigation by the Israeli magazines +972 and Local Call reveals that the Israeli armed forces have been using, since at least 2021, an artificial intelligence system called Habsora (also known as The Gospel). This algorithmic suite is trained and programmed to identify and select bombing targets. It calculates to infer the number of people living or present around a building, likely casualties in an attack. Thus, this calculation makes genocide automation available to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and allows them to significantly accelerate the definition of military objectives in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Officers, the investigation's sources reveal, compare the “productivity” of the algorithm with that of a factory. They have gone from being able to achieve 50 objectives a year to identifying 100 a day, of which 50% are attacked. This fact has also meant expanding the bombing campaign to what they call “powerful targets”: private residences, public buildings and skyscrapers, with the purpose of putting the civilian population to the limit and “putting pressure” on the Islamic Resistance Movement of Palestine. known as HAMAS.

Investigation sources highlight being asked to “look for tall buildings with a floor or space that can be attributed to HAMAS.” These sources also recognize this strategy provides  an “excuse that allows the army to cause a lot of destruction in Gaza.” In this way, entire skyscrapers are demolished and civilian families are forced to abandon their homes. Using the pretext of targeting offices and operational spaces of 'Islamic Jihad' (which sources consider irrelevant in many cases) what can well be classified as state terrorism is carried out, which remains unpunished in the eyes of the international community. The report also reveals that, in at least one instance, in at least one case, the Israeli military command knowingly approved the bombing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in an attempt to take out a single senior military command.

The role of artificial intelligence in this entire targeting strategy threatens to blur the responsibility for decisions. According to Richard Moyes, a researcher at Article 36 , when a commander is given a list of computer-generated targets using a system like The Gospel, “they don't have to know what criteria the list was drawn up by, and they can't ask about the objectives.” suggested objectives or question them.” Another Israeli expert on the military use of AI, who spoke to MEE on condition of anonymity , said that having a human review every AI-generated target in Gaza is “absolutely not feasible.” He added that the algorithm does not explain how it reaches its conclusions, making it difficult to verify the validity of an attack's outcome. “No doubt, AI is giving the military an illusion of mathematical precision and analysis, which is false,” he said. There is, therefore, the danger that individuals and institutions will begin to depend on these systems and become links in a mechanized process without the capacity to properly assess the risk of harm to civilians. The MEE source adds that “all the human defects that the algorithm learned from are automatic there.” That is, all the historical injustice, the data and the results of the occupation, colonization and barbarism to which the Palestinian population has been subjected for decades, is codified to optimize and improve military performance, but also to release responsibility. (and internal dissent) to the actions of the IDF.

According to Bianca Baggiarini's article, Israel's Gaza assault is the future of AI-decided war , the boundaries of an AI system that interacts with other technologies and with people may be unclear, and there may be no way to know who or what has been the “author” of its results, no matter how objective and rational they may seem. These systems help facilitate the anonymity of the actors in the war and can make invisible the origin of violence or the decisions that lead to it. We are seeing a growing disconnect between civilian populations, military positions, deployed soldiers, and the wars being fought in the name of the nation they serve. The use of the 'Habsora' artificial intelligence system masks random murders with mathematics, say Durgham and Masarwa of the MEE. But it also draws the horizon of the automated future of war conflicts in the era of artificial intelligence.

Facial recognition and big data: tools for apartheid and civil siege

But artificial intelligence is not only used on the “battlefield” but also plays a leading role in the apartheid to which Israel subjects the civilian population of Palestine. Mona Shtaya, independent researcher at the Middle East Institute, exposes in this article the role that mass surveillance has in the Israeli occupation, a role in the purest style of Bentham's Panopticon. She identifies the beginning of hypersurveillance in the year 2000, when Israel launched its technological surveillance center, called “Mabat 2000” (“gaze” in Hebrew). In June 2014, Israel allocated NIS 48.9 million ($15.26 million) to strengthen it. And since then, digital surveillance has continued to increase.

Amnesty International examines, in its report “ Automated Apartheid ”, how facial recognition technology is widely used by Israeli authorities to support their continued domination and oppression of the population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. To the wide repertoire of discriminatory and inhuman mechanisms through which they maintain the apartheid system, the Israeli authorities have added facial recognition computer programs - particularly at checkpoints - to consolidate existing practices of discriminatory policing, as well as segregation and restriction of freedom of movement, violating the basic rights of the Palestinian population.

Thus, the Israeli technological conglomerate uses different systems to control, monitor and oppress the population. Soldiers have technology that subjects the population to permanent and "transparent" surveillance, since they do not need to interact with documentation to carry out checks. The Israeli panopticon uses not only facial recognition but also cyberespionage techniques, geolocation tracking and device intervention. The cameras that flood the streets capture fixed and moving license plates, which facilitates the violation of the Palestinian population's right to mobility within their own neighborhoods. At the Kerem Shalom border crossing, microphones are implanted (without the knowledge or consent of the end user) in all mobile devices imported into the occupied territories, so that the IDF has the capacity to monitor all telephone conversations. in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip . And the surveillance spy programs are already well known, which they manufacture and export around the world and which first “test” using them against human rights defenders in Palestine.

To all this we must add the “Blue Wolf” surveillance initiative, a smartphone application fed with personal information. The database of this application is fed by a larger one, called “Wolf Pack”, which aims to create a profile of each resident in the West Bank. Each profile contains photographs, family history, educational history, and a safety rating. Israel orders its soldiers to enter photos and data of at least 50 Palestinians into the IDF's Blue Wolf tracking system during each shift; obviously, without any consent of those affected. Those soldiers who do not reach the quota are forced to remain on duty until they do. They even compete to see who can harass the most residents. The private information collected is used to blackmail the Palestinian population, in order to make them become informants, or to reduce their rights and freedoms. All spaces of Palestinian civil society are continually besieged by innovation in surveillance technology.

The business around genocide and apartheid: the necessary complicity of Big Tech

All the systems described in the previous section require an extremely powerful data storage and management infrastructure. The concentration of power characteristic of the capitalism of computing platforms and services makes the complicity of large technology companies, known as big tech, necessary. Especially relevant are, in this case, the American companies Amazon and Google. As the Israeli army bombed homes, clinics and schools in Gaza, and threatened to expel Palestinian families from their homes in Jerusalem in May 2021, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud executives signed a $1.22 billion contract to provide cloud technology to the Israeli government and military with the aim of increasing their computing capacity. This expansion of infrastructure improves the efficiency of data processing, so, as the No Tech for apartheid campaign warns , these contracts contribute to making Israeli apartheid more efficient, more violent and even more deadly for the Palestinians. The latest to join this surveillance group has been Starlink, the satellite internet services company owned by Elon Musk. Israel has agreed to implement Starlink services in Gaza , but only for its organizations and in order to reinforce its telecommunications on the borders of the Strip.

However, making this information known to the public has not been able to encourage a boycott reaction like that seen in other cases, such as large supermarket chains or commercial brands. Even the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS) movement itself suggests putting pressure on these technology companies without actually asking for a boycott, since it considers that, for the latter to be possible, there must be “reasonable alternatives.” The concentration of power of big tech that we denounce so much from the digital rights movements turns these companies into supreme and inevitable entities in the face of the non-existent digital sovereignty and autonomy of the rest of the countries and their citizens. Without shame, these corporations take advantage of this to continue increasing their economic capital and, in turn, expand their large infrastructure network. They thus emerge as necessary and inevitable allies of those who wage war and those who are against it. 

The myth of the innovative country: economic growth based on technology for repression

Although the technology companies mentioned so far obtain great benefits from their business with the state of Israel, they are not the only ones favored. According to Apoorva PG, BDS coordinator in Asia-Pacific, in this article for TNI , the deep ties between Israel and large technology companies have allowed a two-way flow of benefits and complicities. On the one hand, this allows Israel to deploy rapidly innovative technology developed by transnational companies, and integrate it into its surveillance, control and repression infrastructure in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. On the other hand, Israeli technology developed to control the Palestinian people is made available to national and international technology companies so that they can expand it and export it to other countries for repressive purposes. The Palestinian Stop the Wall campaign collects, in its Digital Walls report, various statistics that give an idea of ​​the scope of the existing business around “Israeli innovation.” The fact that more than 300 leading multinational companies in technological development have established Research and Development (R&D) centers in Israel stands out, and they represent 50% of R&D spending in the state of Israel. Additionally, these multinational corporations have acquired nearly 100 Israeli companies. Intel, Microsoft, Broadcom, Cisco, IBM and ENC are among the companies that have carried out the most acquisition operations. Finally, it is worth noting that around 10% of the world's technology start-ups valued at more than $1 billion (known as “unicorns”) are based in Israel. 

This symbiotic relationship drives Big Tech investment in Israel and reinforces the growth of surveillance and militarized digital technology, which Israel has pioneered. This is a growing market that confirms the dynamic towards a militarization of the entire digital space and the technological tools themselves. For these reasons, from some sectors of the technology sector itself, a call has been launched to boycott technology that is complicit in genocide , appealing to both workers and investors. 

Story control algorithms: silencing, misinformation and propaganda

Until now we have highlighted the existing framework around what we could call the Israeli “war, apartheid and innovation machine.” However, this entire network of business and power also operates to manipulate and control the information that reaches international public opinion. Therefore, it should not surprise us to learn the importance that these same big techs have in the propaganda, misinformation and silencing of the Palestinian people and those who support them.

Lee Fang and Jack Poulson, independent journalists, analyze  chat and video call records obtained from Israeli government sources in this article . These documents detail key messages and online harassment tactics that provide insight into Israel's massive effort to shape online discourse and silence pro-Palestinian voices. In this sense, IDF spokespersons even participate in chats and meetings of investment funds (in which they share space with senior managers of companies and investors from Silicon Valley), to explain how Americans who support Israel can collaborate with pressure groups. and public relations. One of these funds, formed by investors with an ideology very close to Zionism and with great power of influence in the sector, is J-Ventures. In a presentation given on November 22 by Adam Fisher , director in Israel of Bessemer Venture Partners, he explained to the audience, mostly executives in the technology sector, how he effectively “ridicules” influential pro-Palestinian voices on Twitter/X, among them that of the Palestinian-American congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and that of the venture capital investor Paul Graham. The digital space has been a focus of pro-Israel activism since the beginning of the current military operation. It is a deliberate strategy that also uses monetization and the business model of social networks, that is, advertising. In the first fifteen days of the military response to the HAMAS attack, the Israeli Foreign Ministry published up to 75 different advertisements online, and spent millions of dollars buying space on platforms such as YouTube and Twitter/X. The ministry, which manages several very active accounts on these networks, has also reached out directly to American allies to guide pro-Israel activism on social platforms, singling out and harassing celebrities who have expressed support for the Palestinian resistance.

Those instructions appear to have been diligently followed by Meta and all of its products (Facebook, Instagram, Messenger). Human Rights Watch (HRW) analyzed more than a thousand cases of online censorship in more than 60 countries, identifying six common patterns: removal of content, suspension or deletion of accounts, inability to engage with content, inability to follow or tag accounts, restriction from the use of features such as Instagram and Facebook Live, and blocks. According to HRW, the removal of peaceful expressions of support for the Palestinian population is the result of “flawed Meta policies and their inconsistent and erroneous application, as well as over-reliance on automated tools to moderate content and undue government influence.” in their elimination.” Given this situation, the Stop silencing Palestine campaign arises , which asks Meta to review its content moderation practices and policies and end the systematic censorship of Palestinian voices.

But the influence of Israeli propaganda goes beyond the large platforms, and also extends to the content recommendation systems used by the vast majority of digital media. The two most important companies in this market, Outbrain and Taboola, based in Israel, have also expressed their support for the massacre in Gaza. Media from across the political spectrum use their systems in our country, as this investigation by El Salto reveals . The Zionist state has launched a true digital crusade against the freedom of expression of the Palestinian population, which includes anyone who dares to show solidarity with them in public.

Generative AI shows its Zionist biases

We did not want to end this analysis without mentioning the behavior of generative artificial intelligences, the main protagonists of technological news in 2023. For example, in this article from The Guardian, it details how WhatsApp's generative AI shows armed children when asks for “Palestine” and yet, with the instruction “Israeli boy” generates cartoons of children playing soccer and reading. In response to “Israeli army,” the AI ​​creates drawings of soldiers smiling and praying, without weapons involved. These answers say more about the companies that own them than about the technologies themselves.

ChatGPT also responds in different ways when asked about the right to freedom of Israelis and Palestinians. As we can see in Bruno Rodrigues' article on Medium, OpenAI's conversational AI immediately answers “Yes, like any other people, Israeli citizens have the fundamental right to freedom” when asked about it. However, when referring to the freedom of the Palestinians, in the first sentence it is already objected that "it is a complex issue", and "of intense debate" that includes difference of opinions on how the right to Palestinian self-determination should be applied.

Question our role as users and take action

From targeting and bombing to propaganda and disinformation, we have seen how technology is redefining the way war is waged. It allows and enables a genocide with surgical control of the population and public opinion. All of this with the complicity and support of large technology companies, which also benefit economically by offering their services and homage to an oppressive state. In this context, not only is the Palestinian people in danger, but the future of the rights of civil societies around the world is at stake. By allowing these types of practices, we are setting a dangerous and macabre precedent on the role that digital technology companies can have in the control, oppression and repression of civil society.

Although wars have always had a strong technological component and military innovation has marked the development of new technologies, the current scenario increasingly dilutes the separation between technology for civilian use and that for military use. Suddenly, technology that we normally use is used to kill, segregate or spy on the population (as in the case of the mobile phones that we carry in our pockets, or the AI systems that we train daily without realizing it). The elimination of the separation between the civil and the military turns Big Tech into war weapons manufacturing companies and, therefore, transforms us, users, into complicit soldiers or potential targets, without even realizing it. Thus, questioning our complicity with a genocidal state means also questioning our role as users of certain technological services. Organizing to continue demanding a ceasefire, as well as to point out the network of digital services that facilitate the extermination of the Palestinian people, is urgent and a priority, also from the techno-political and digital rights defense movements.


Text by Eurídice Cabañes and Judith Membrives.

This article has been possible thanks to the collaborative work of a community of people interested in technopolitics and power.