Hundreds of health workers have shut down the London HQ of Palantir in protest at the awarding of NHS contracts to a company complicit in Israel’s ‘ongoing genocide in Gaza’.

Credit: Talia Woodin

Hundreds of UK health workers have shut down the central London headquarters of US tech giant and spy firm Palantir to disrupt its business. Their mass picket aims to blockade entry to and exit from the building in protest against NHS England awarding a £330 million contract to Palantir, a company which professes to be keeping the Israeli government ‘armed and ahead’ in its ongoing bombardment of Gaza, including Israel’s systematic targeting of healthcare facilities, health workers and patients.

Palantir specialises in AI-powered military and surveillance technology and data analytics, working with the CIA and the UK Ministry of Defence. The company has provided military and surveillance technology to the Israeli government for years, including predictive policing services used as part of the occupation to systematically harass and detain Palestinians.

Such ‘predictive systems’ are used by Israel to analyse the social media posts of Palestinians. In 2010, Israel issued Military Order 1651 which imposes a ten-year sentence on anyone who attempts to influence public opinion in the West Bank in a manner they deem harmful to public order or who publishes words of praise for ‘hostile’ organisations.  For years, the Israeli army has used broad military orders to intimidate and arrest Palestinian human rights activists engaged in non-violent protests. Palantir’s racially profiled analytics systems therefore facilitate the unjust arrest of Palestinians. Many have faced long prison sentences for simply posting photos of family members killed or imprisoned by Israeli forces, citing Quranic verses, or calling for protests.

Approximately 500-1,000 Palestinians are detained by Israel each year. Detainees have spoken of physical and psychological abuse during arrest, transfer and interrogation. According to a UN Children’s Fund report, ill-treatment in the Israeli military detention system remains ‘widespread, systematic, and institutionalised throughout the process.’

Grubby Deals

The NHS contract was awarded to Palantir for data management services despite widespread opposition over concerns about patient privacy and outsourcing. The health workers are calling on NHS England to cancel the Palantir contract and to ensure no other contracts are given to companies complicit in the ongoing genocide in Gaza, to bring data management back in-house and end the privatisation of NHS services. 

Palantir has stated during the ongoing bombardment of Gaza that it has increased its support for Israel. In a recent letter to shareholders, the company said, ‘We are one of a few companies in the world to stand up and announce our support for Israel, which remains steadfast.’ 

The tech giant isn’t shy about demonstrating its support for Israel either. In October, during the sustained bombardment of Gaza, the company took out a full-page ad in the New York Times declaring ‘Palantir stands with Israel.’ In a post on X, formerly Twitter, on 12 October, it said: ‘Certain kinds of evil can only be fought with force. Palantir stands with Israel.’

Today’s blockade has also been organised in response to an urgent call for support from health unions in Palestine over Israel’s systematic targeting of healthcare facilities. Jessica, a nurse and member of Health Workers for a Free Palestine, told Tribune: ‘It should be unthinkable for the NHS to do grubby deals with a company which is complicit in, and profiting from, Israel’s systematic destruction of healthcare facilities.’ According to the United Nations, at least 300 healthcare workers have been killed in Gaza since 7 October. This is more than the total number of healthcare workers killed across all countries in conflict in any year since 2016.

Hundreds of members of Health Workers for a Free Palestine are protesting in their scrubs and chanting, ‘No place for war profiteers in our NHS’ and ‘Keep NHS data out of bloodstained hands’.

‘The entire purpose of the NHS is the preservation of life,’ says Jessica. ‘As health workers, we cannot turn a blind eye to the health service being implicated in the ongoing genocide in Gaza and the slaughter of our colleagues — fellow nurses, doctors, dentists, medical students and other health workers — and their patients. We’re here to blockade and disrupt Palantir’s blood-soaked business, and we will continue mobilising until NHS England agrees to keep our NHS data out of bloodstained hands.’

Healthcare workers are also calling for NHS data management to be brought back in-house amid widespread concerns about patient privacy. NHS data has an estimated value of £10 billion per year and companies like Palantir can use it to develop their own new products and gain significant profit as a result. Polling commissioned this year by the Health Foundation shows the majority of the British public trust NHS organisations, rather than private companies, to handle their data.

Today’s mass picket is taking place amid another wave of strike action by junior doctors over pay and conditions. Zara, a junior doctor and member of both the British Medical Association and Health Workers for a Free Palestine, told Tribune: ‘This Palantir deal exemplifies the asset-stripping of our health service which is being used to line the pockets of private companies while the NHS faces chronic underfunding and junior doctors like me who are currently on strike are suffering a real-terms pay cut.’

To her, the Palantir deal represents further asset stripping, outsourcing and privatisation of NHS services for the benefit of multinational corporations. ‘Polling shows the British public strongly oppose the privatisation of our NHS and the majority do not trust corporations to protect the privacy of their health data.’ Earlier this year, Palantir’s Trump-supporting billionaire founder and chair Peter Thiel described the British public’s affection for the NHS as ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, suggesting ‘you just rip the whole thing from the ground and start over.’

‘We are calling on the NHS to cancel its contract with this Gaza war profiteer,’ explains Zara, ‘ensure no other complicit companies are awarded contracts, bring data management back in-house, and stop selling our NHS services for corporate profits.’

The health workers’ blockade today is taking place in conjunction with a global day of action against Elbit Systems, with protests shutting down Elbit operations at different sites around the world, including in the UK, Brazil, the USA, Canada, Belgium and Sweden.

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