First, please check out the photo essay Holy Heroin by Tanya Habjouqa, from July, 2007. Here's one photo, with its caption:
Next, we consider the beginning of East Jerusalem suffers heroin plague, July 6, 2011:
"I didn't think I would ever stop", Abu Salah tells the circle. "After 14 years of buying and selling, hashish, heroin and cocaine, I had lost control of my life. I had no job. I would never speak to my family."
His story, and the clinic we are sitting in, is an indication of how Palestine's drug problem is fast becoming a crisis. The towns in and around East Jerusalem have become breeding grounds for addiction, made vulnerable by poverty and a lack of security.
Unlike neighbouring Egypt and Lebanon, Palestine has no historic connection with the drugs trade. Its arrival has been sudden and spectacular, with heroin in particular spreading like wildfire. Al Quds University estimates there are over 6,000 addicts in East Jerusalem today, compared with 300 in 1986.
In the town of Al Ram, pressed up against Israel's Separation Barrier, degradation has set in. Once a lively suburb of Jerusalem, since 2006 it has been locked out by the Barrier, which surrounds it on three sides. The effect of this sudden disconnection from the city has been devastating.
One-third of all businesses have been forced to close, 75 per cent of youths under 24 are unemployed, and around half of the town's 62,000 residents have been denied the ID they require to enter Jerusalem.
Al Ram, like neighbouring Abu Dis and Al Ezzariya, has been left in limbo. It is now classified as a mixture of Area B and C, under the terms of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which stipulates Israeli security control with some Palestinian Authority administration. Palestinian police are forbidden from operating here without permission, so residents live with anarchy.
"There is no authority, no security and no police", says Dr Ajman Afghani of al Maqdese, a social development NGO. "It is easy to steal cars and rob houses, and it has become like a supermarket for drugs". Palestinian Authority Spokesman Ghassan Khatib acknowledges the problem; "these areas are suffering because we are not allowed to function, and is Israel is neglecting them as a policy."
It goes without saying that the drug problem is Israel's fault - at least according to Israel's detractors. For example, from The scourge of drugs in Jerusalem, dated January 3, 2011:
The city of Jerusalem is of special interest to Israeli politicians as they consider it to be the "undivided" capital of their state. As a result, they are seeking ways to end the Palestinian presence in the city and have plans to reduce the Arab population of East Jerusalem so that the Palestinians become a minority of not more than a quarter of the total population over the next ten years. Israeli policies to isolate the city from its Palestinian heritage and culture through closing institutions are part of this process, known as "Judaization" of the Holy City. Those who resist are seeing their homes demolished and themselves "deported" from their occupied city to the occupied West Bank.
It appears to be a clear policy that Israel uses the illegal trade in drugs as a weapon against the Arab presence in Jerusalem, ruining the health of young people and weakening their mental and moral strength. The drugs to which the Israeli police turn a blind eye are destroying young Palestinians on an intellectual, cultural and economic level as part of the process to destroying them completely. The problem is exacerbated by the decline in social and moral values, civil unrest and political tensions arising from the occupation. Rising unemployment and the widening circle of poverty play their part.
The failure of the Palestinian Authority and Arab politicians to take this seriously means that there is a serious lack of programmes in place to help Palestinians in Jerusalem to tackle the drug problem. International impotence in the face of the Israeli occupation does nothing to help this situation. It appears to have been forgotten that according to international law Jerusalem is still occupied territory and is thus supposed to be protected from geographic and demographic change at the hands of the occupying power, Israel. As long as the world ignores even that fundamental point, then it is unlikely that any significant progress is going to be made towards combating the evils of drugs in the Holy City of Jerusalem.
But, is there another side to the regional drug problem?
For background, we consider information presented to Congress twenty-one years ago. From The World's Largest Drug Field -- (by Dennis Eisenberg) (Extension of Remarks - July 27, 1990):
As the U.S. government cracks down on the Colombian drug traffic, Lebanon's lush Bekaa Valley has emerged as the largest 'killing field' on the globe. Already producing 80 percent of the world's cannabis, its farmers have now planted a record acreage of poppies to cope with the growing demand for the even more profitable heroin.
Hundreds of acres of fruit orchards, wheat fields, and vineyards of the Bekaa Valley -- known in Roman times as the breadbasket of the world -- have been uprooted to make way for the intensive cultivation of crops in eager demand by international drug dealers.
The Syrian government, which invaded the area to 'bring law and order,' is an active partner with local merchants and raked in an estimated $1 billion last year. This money was desperately needed, as the Syrians have to pay off their vast debts to the Soviet Union before Moscow will supply any more sophisticated missiles, fighter planes, and other weapons for President Hafez Assad's 800,000-strong army.
Syrian troops not only guard the poppy and cannabis fields to prevent theft and ensure that supplies are not sold to competing bidders, but they also intervene to settle disputes between rival terrorist gangs, who have their own drug estates and transportation networks to Scandinavia, France, Finland, Holland, Belgium, and West Germany. Yasser Arafat's PLO (known locally as the 'poppy lovers' organization') uses its links with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) to rake in massive profits from sending drugs via Holland to its network of agents in Britain, West Germany, and Ireland for international distribution. Terror groups today spend far more time as merchants of death selling drugs than carrying out violent attacks for their cause.
European police first stumbled on this trade when Scotland Yard special units, in cooperation with the Dutch Narcotics Squad, unearthed a haul of 300,000,000 pounds' worth of top-grade 'Lebanese Gold' transported from Lebanon in two freighters chartered by the PLO. Earlier, and six-man PLO squad led by one of Arafat's chief aides, Ali Mahmoud Buro, was arrested at Heathrow Airport after customs men found a 150-kilogram cache of Bekaa Valley cannabis in their luggage.
Following up on these leads as well as information from Western intelligence services operating in the Middle East, Scotland Yard detectives recently cracked down on a vast IRA-PLO money-laundering operation. The IRA was using British banks and other financial organizations to purchase arms with their drug profits for terrorist operations in Ireland, Britain, Germany, and France.
An intelligence source told me: 'Most of the IRA and Arab terror group leaders spend far more time and energy today buying legal businesses under registered company names and stashing money away in their private banking accounts than fighting for 'freedom and liberation.'
The Palestine Liberation Organization - Yasser Arafat's crowd - was so into heroin trafficking that it was known as the "Poppy Lovers' Organization". Wow! And their ties went to the IRA - not any alliance against any kind of common enemy, just simple drug trafficking.
Experts say the drug trade is worth $6 billion a year to Lebanon. The street value in Western cities is a staggering $150 billion.
As no one in Lebanon even pretends to try to stop the growth of cannabis and poppies, three-quarters of the 4,280-square-kilometer Bekaa Valley is cultivated with these two crops. The Muslim farmers in the eastern and central valleys of the Bekaa, especially in the town of Manara, have concentrated on the easy-to-grow cannabis weed to provide Western marijuana and hashish users with their needs. Poppies, which are the source of opium before it is converted into heroin, require greater skill in care and extraction and until recently have been planted near the homes of local peasants.
Farmers have discovered, however, that heroin is a far more profitable crop. They have been helped by the Syrians, who supplied them with mobile laboratories transported in army trucks. As a result, peasants can plant poppies among cannabis fields even in the mountains of the Bekaa to increase their profits. Heroin from the Bekaa is considered to be superior even to the best quality Turkish-produced drug.
Of course, today the best heroin comes from Afghanistan. But two decades ago, Lebanon was the happening place.
Although the civil war in Lebanon is theoretically one between various Christian and Muslim sects, there is close cooperation between all groups when it comes to the mind-boggling profits being made from the drug business. The local trades are mostly Christian Lebanese who buy entire harvests from one Muslim village after another. In return for 'protection' by Syrian soldiers in areas controlled by Damasus, they hand over half their profits to officers working under Kenaan.
I was told by an intelligence source: 'The entire Lebanon is really a country of 24 fiefdoms, each one ruled by its own Mafia chief whose wealth and power spring from the drug trade. The Lebanese civil war is really about who controls the best cannabis and poppy fields as well as ports from where to export the drug harvest. It also explains why the Syrian government refuses to withdraw from the Bekaa and has even strengthened its vast armies stationed there.
So, much of the unrest in the Middle East was, at least twenty-plus years ago, fighting over the trade in illegal drugs.
Do you suppose this is still a problem?
(And, by analogy, do you suppose this might be part of the reason why the war in Afghanistan has been going on so long?)
Yasser Arafat died a very rich man. According to a 60 Minutes report from November 7, 2003, entitled Arafat's Billions
(CBS) Yasser Arafat diverted nearly $1 billion in public funds to insure his political survival, but a lot more is unaccounted for.
Jim Prince and a team of American accountants - hired by Arafat's own finance ministry - are combing through Arafat's books. Given what they've already uncovered, Arafat may be rethinking the decision. Lesley Stahl reports.
"What is Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority worth today?" asks accountant Jim Prince. "Who is controlling that money? Where is that money? How do we get it back?"
So far, Prince's team has determined that part of the Palestinian leader's wealth was in a secret portfolio worth close to $1 billion -- with investments in companies like a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Ramallah, a Tunisian cell phone company and venture capital funds in the U.S. and the Cayman Islands.
Although the money for the portfolio came from public funds like Palestinian taxes, virtually none of it was used for the Palestinian people; it was all controlled by Arafat. And, Prince says, none of these dealings were made public.
Martin Indyk, a top adviser on the Middle East in the Clinton administration and now head of the Saban Center, a Washington think-tank, says Arafat was always traveling the world, looking for handouts. Money, he says, is "essential" to Arafat's survival.
"Arafat for years would cry poor, saying, 'I can't pay the salaries, we're gonna have a disaster here, the Palestinian economy is going to collapse,'" says Indyk. "And we would all mouth those words: 'The Palestinian economy is going to collapse if we don't do something about this.' But at the same time, he's accumulating hundreds of millions of dollars."
According to Indyk, "The Israelis came to us and said, basically, 'Arafat's job is to clean up Gaza. It's going to be a difficult job. He needs walking-around money,' because the assumption was that he would use it to get control of all of these terrorists who'd been operating in these areas for decades."
Obviously, that hasn't happened. No one knows this better than Dennis Ross, who was Middle East negotiator for the first President Bush and President Clinton, and now heads the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He says Arafat's "walking-around money" financed a vast patronage system.
All told, U.S. officials estimate Arafat's personal nest egg at between $1 billion and $3 billion.
He also uses the money to bolster his own standing. Both Israeli and U.S. sources say those recent outpourings of support at Arafat's compound were "rent-a-rallies," and that Arafat has spent millions to support terrorists and purchase weapons.
At this point, you might wish to do an internet search and see how much money you gave to Yasser Arafat. For example, according to a February 2, 2006, report entitled U.S. Aid to the Palestinians, the total for US money to the Palestinian Authority from FY2002 to FY2006 was in the hundreds of millions of dollars; of course, half way through this time frame, Arafat died, but you get the idea.
And, the US wasn't the only country to give the PA money.
So, if you are reading this, chances are your government gave this drug-dealing terrorist some "walking-around money" on your behalf.
All this time, Arafat was also making money by trafficking drugs. And, much of this drug money, plus the money that your government so generously donated to the Palestinian Authority on your behalf, all went to make Yasser Arafat personally wealthy, and to fund his support of terrorists.
Meanwhile, the heroin addiction problem was growing, and the "Palestinians" were some significant victims of their own leadership's narcotrafficking. For example, in East Jerusalem, it went from 300 addicts in 1986 to 6000 today. Needless to say, the Palestinian leadership didn't spend a whole lot of money on taking care of the "Palestinians" who were getting addicted to the heroin that the Palestinian leadership was helping move; in fact, it has been since the Oslo Accords of 1993 which paved the way for the Palestinian Authority to take control of the "occupied" areas of the "West Bank" that the problem has really gotten bad.
And, Israel (and, by extension, America, for supporting Israel) gets the blame for it all.
But, this problem is hitting closer to home than you think. ;)