Zelda Montes first learned about Google’s Project Nimbus approximately half a year ago, despite her tenure at the company dating back to 2022. The venture entails a substantial $1.2 billion deal aimed at providing cloud computing services to Israel.

Expressing opposition to the conflict in Gaza, Montes found herself deeply unsettled by the news. This revelation unfolds amidst escalating tensions surrounding the Israeli conflict throughout the nation.

“The revelation underscores the startling lack of awareness among employees regarding this contract,” remarks Montes, who served as a software engineer at YouTube, a subsidiary of Google.

Montes swiftly aligned herself with a Google employee collective named No Tech for Apartheid, which has been actively advocating against Project Nimbus since 2021. Their objective: urging Google to sever ties with the Israeli government. Montes details the group’s endeavors, including dialogue with Google’s leadership, participation in company forums, and dissemination of informational material at Google’s facilities.

However, she laments, “Google unequivocally stifled dissenting voices within the workplace, prohibiting any form of protest surrounding the project.”

Consequently, on Tuesday, the collective took a decisive step forward.

In a coordinated effort, sit-in demonstrations unfolded across Google’s offices in Silicon Valley, New York City, and Seattle, drawing over 100 participants. The following day, Google terminated Montes and 27 other employees affiliated with the No Tech for Apartheid group.

This mass dismissal marks one of the most significant workforce purges witnessed within the tech sector, underscoring a broader discomfort among Silicon Valley companies engaged with Israel. Employees across various tech giants, including Amazon and Facebook’s Meta, have encountered friction with their employers over expressing dissent regarding the conflict. Just last month, Google terminated another software engineer who protested at an Israel tech event.

Responding to inquiries about the protesters on Tuesday, a Google spokesperson conveyed via email to NPR, “Physically impeding the work of fellow employees and obstructing access to our facilities flagrantly violates our policies and is utterly unacceptable behavior. Following repeated refusal to vacate the premises, law enforcement intervened to ensure office safety.”

Project Nimbus, A.I. and cloud computing

Google and Amazon, in collaboration, initiated their involvement with the Israeli government on Project Nimbus back in 2021. Recently, Time magazine acquired an internal document from Google revealing that Israel’s Ministry of Defense has continued to engage Google’s services, with a contract as recent as last month.

According to a spokesperson from Google, their cloud services extend support to various governments globally, including Israel. Specifically, Project Nimbus caters to government ministries, and the spokesperson emphasized that the project does not target highly sensitive, classified, or military tasks related to weaponry or intelligence operations.

However, the No Tech for Apartheid group expresses concerns over the lack of transparency regarding the project’s specifics, raising apprehensions about its potential utilization in Israel. They express fears that the technology could be deployed in the Gaza conflict and potentially weaponized against Palestinian civilians.

The group asserts that workers have the fundamental right to understand the application of their labor and to contribute to ensuring that the technology they develop is not utilized for harmful purposes.

Worker arrests and firings

On the day of the sit-in, around noon, Montes recounts how she and fellow protestors at Google’s New York office unveiled a sizable 15-foot banner down an open staircase bearing the message: “No tech for genocide.” (Israel, in response, denies allegations of genocide, asserting its actions are in self-defense).

During the sit-in, they occupied themselves by playing the card game Uno until Google security approached them. According to Montes, they were initially instructed to vacate the premises under threat of arrest, although it took approximately eight hours for law enforcement to arrive.

Montes describes the atmosphere as tense, with uncertainty looming over the possibility of police intervention. When authorities eventually arrived, it was nighttime, and most protestors had already left the premises. Those who remained, including Montes, were escorted to a police van waiting in the garage after being handcuffed. Subsequently, the group spent approximately three and a half hours in police custody.

In total, nine protestors were arrested across California and New York. However, it wasn’t until the following evening that Google commenced the termination of employees. Initially placed on administrative leave, Montes received an email notifying her of her termination, citing violations of Google’s code of conduct and policies regarding harassment, discrimination, and retaliation during the events on Tuesday.

According to No Tech for Apartheid, several terminated Google employees did not participate in this week’s protests. Google’s spokesperson stated that the company has been conducting individual investigations into employees’ actions.

“We have concluded individual investigations resulting in the termination of employment for 28 employees thus far, and will continue to investigate and take necessary action,” the spokesperson affirmed.

Montes views the firings as an attempt at intimidation, asserting that such tactics will not deter their cause. “We, the workers, are resolute and well-organized,” she declares, affirming their commitment to continue advocating until the project is abandoned, despite her dismissal.