Latest Israel-Palestine Problem: Marijuana

Generally speaking, the United States tries to distance itself from Hamas. And since the U.S. is the chief supplier of arms and foreign aid to Hamas’s antagonists in Israel, the feeling of enmity is entirely mutual (no matter how many keffiyehs and Palestinian flags are spotted on American college campuses). 

But the Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group has at least one thing in common with the U.S. government that has declared it a terrorist organization: They both hate weed.

American citizens love cannabis, of course, even as the U.S. federal government continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance. Palestinian civilians living in Gaza—where a state of war has been in near-constant effect for the past decade and where one-in-four people are unemployed—feel similarly. Suffering from more than a decade of constant war, Gazans are turning to cannabis and other drugs as an escape.

As the UK Independent reported, there’s been a “flood” of drugs into the Gaza Strip, where authorities seized as much marijuana and prescription painkillers this past January alone as they had in all of 2016—which in turn, is compelling Hamas, the ruling political party in Gaza, to ponder more draconian drug laws—including American-style mandatory minimums.

From the paper:

Eight major dealers were arrested in one of the biggest police stings to date in which they seized more than 100 kg (220 pounds) of marijuana, worth as much as £4m on the streets of Gaza, and 250,000 tablets of tramadol, which sells for between 130 and 170 shekels (£30-£40) for 10 pills.

In a development the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will surely love, the parallels with America don’t stop there. To get drugs across a heavily defended border, smugglers have been employing a series of innovative tricks, including catapults. 

Hamas believes that the drug problem is getting worse in part because the penalties for drug possession and sales are getting too lenient—the same kind of talk Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes when he laments the spread of marijuana legalization across the United States.

Gazans’ drug habits are nothing new. In 2009, the Independent published a similar report documenting how, following a bombing or rocket attack, prescription painkiller use spiked among survivors. 

Other drugs are proving popular among various fighting factions in the Middle East.

A stimulant known as “captagon” is proving popular among fighters with ISIS—so much so that the stuff has been nicknamed “Jihad meth.” Yes: ISIS are the unsavory and belligerent tweakers of the Middle East.

But back to Palestine and pot.

The final and most twisted irony, of course, is that Hamas’s sworn enemies are the worldwide leader in marijuana research. 

Israel is moving so quickly on cannabis that the country could begin exporting the drug within the next few years. Numerous companies are producing the drug in increasing quantities for medical purposes, and Israel is also moving to decriminalize marijuana possession

According to the Independent, the cannabis popping up in Gaza originates in Egypt.

But if Israel, led by the bellicose conservative Benjamin Netanyahu, really wanted to annoy its Islamist antagonist—and win many fans among their suffering people—it could start lobbing bales of high-grade cannabis into Gaza instead of rockets.

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