Israel-Palestine war: Military tech firm backing war in Gaza awarded NHS data contract
An American company specialising in AI-powered military and surveillance technology that is supporting Israel’s war in Gaza has been awared a contract by England's National Health Service to handle patient data.
The £330m ($413m) contract, which was awarded to Colorado-based Palantir by NHS England on Tuesday, is likely to dismay many NHS workers who have called for a ceasefire in Gaza and protested against Israeli attacks targeting hospitals and civilians.
A spokesperson for Health Workers for a Free Palestine, a network of NHS staff, told Middle East Eye: “Many would be rightly concerned that a third-party company is managing their medical data, let alone Palantir, whose interests are at odds with the British public, Palestinian people and our collective humanity.”
At least 13,000 people, including 5,500 children, have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its assault following attacks by Hamas militants in southern Israel on 7 October in which at least 1,200 people were killed.
Palantir, which has an office in Tel Aviv, has been outspoken in its support for Israel.
In a social media post on 12 October, it said: “Certain kinds of evil can only be fought with force. Palantir stands with Israel.”
In a letter to shareholders issued on 2 November, 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.”
Announcing the company’s third-quarter profits on the same day, Alex Karp, Palantir’s chief executive and a co-founder of the company, said: “I am proud that we are supporting Israel in every way we can.”
'Good guys, bad guys'
Speaking to Fox Business earlier this month, Joe Lonsdale, another of Palantir’s co-founders, said Israel was “doing what it has to do and eliminating the bad guys” and “we are trying to keep the good guys armed and ahead”.
Lonsdale said: “When we were building Palantir we actually learnt a lot from the Israelis. They’re quite good at what they do and one of my proudest moments was when Israel started working with Palantir. So Palantir helps Israel do a lot of things too.”
Middle East Eye asked Palantir what technology or support it was providing to Israel’s armed forces but had not received a response at the time of publication.
The company describes its military technologies as offering customers “mission-tested capabilities, forged in the field” to deliver “a tactical edge - by land, air, sea and space”.
Palantir was founded in 2004 with some funding provided by a CIA-backed venture capital firm and provides services to the US military and intelligence agencies, as well as to armed forces in the UK and other western countries.
Another co-founder, and Palantir’s current chair, is Peter Thiel, a technology billionaire who also co-founded PayPal and backed Donald Trump’s winning US presidential campaign in 2016.
'Businesses that trade in death should have no place in our healthcare system'
- Spokesperson, Health Workers for a Free Palestine
Earlier this month, Palantir reported quarterly earnings of $558m and said it expected its annual earnings for 2023 to exceed $2.2bn.
In comments to investors, Karp said the company was "building products for a world that is violent, disjointed, irrational, a world in which you have to show strength... A world in which you really have to pick sides."
The NHS previously used Palantir software to manage data during the Covid-19 pandemic, but its involvement in the UK healthcare system has been opposed by privacy campaigners.
They have called on the UK government to end Palantir’s involvement in the NHS, citing the company’s involvement in developing mass surveillance for the National Security Agency in the US and GCHQ in the UK.
In 2017, Haaretz reported that Palantir was one of two technology companies providing predictive systems used for intelligence at Israeli security organisations that the newspaper linked to the arrests of scores of Palestinians based on profiling of their social media activity.
Continuing Israeli attacks on hospitals and medical facilities in Gaza have been widely condemned.
On Monday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organisation, said he was appalled by an assault by Israeli forces on the Indonesian Hospital in Beit Lahia in which at least 12 people, including patients, had been killed.
"Health workers and civilians should never have to be exposed to such horror, and especially while inside a hospital," Tedros said.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said that an MSF clinic in Gaza City had also come under fire.
On Saturday, up to 7,000 people inside Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, including premature babies, critically ill patients, displaced families and medical staff, were given just one hour to leave by Israeli troops.
Health workers' protest
Last month, thousands of NHS doctors signed an open letter calling on the UK government to condemn Israel’s attack on Gaza.
Earlier this month, hundreds of health workers protested outside the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to condemn the UK government’s support for Israel.
A spokesperson for Health Workers for a Free Palestine said: “Palantir has come out in full support for Israel's bombardment of Gaza, received funding from the CIA, helped the NSA with their worldwide surveillance programme, and worked on artificial intelligence for US military drones.
"Businesses that trade in death should have no place in our healthcare system."
Palantir did not respond to requests for comment.
The DHSC did not answer MEE’s questions about health workers' concerns regarding Palantir’s support for Israel. Instead, a spokesperson sent a statement addressing data privacy concerns.
“Patients’ data has and always will remain under the full control and protection of the NHS, and it will not be accessed by the company that makes the software,” the statement said.
NHS England did not respond to MEE’s requests for comment about Palantir’s support for Israel. It has said the process by which the company was chosen was "fair and transparent" and "in line with public contract regulations".