By: Firas Tawil
A drug nursery in the West Bank
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
This year witnessed an increase in drug control programs by the Palestinian security services; this is an indicator of the growing phenomenon of organized crime, especially in areas not under the control of the Palestinian Authority. This was illustrated by the figures obtained by Afaq Environmental Magazine from the Anti-Narcotics Police.
By the end of September 2018, 40 nurseries were seized throughout the West Bank, with 22,000 marijuana seedlings estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars. A total of 973 cases were recorded by the end of June, 2018. These high volumes indicate an increase in demand and number of drug users and thus an increase in drug traders and farmers.
The most serious is the increasing number of youth entering this dangerous loop. Especially those between the ages of 21 and 30 years have the highest percentage arrests in drug cases. This reality is an indicator of problems within the society, for food security, and the economic and sustainable development of a country which is controlled by the Israeli occupation in all its airspace, land, water and natural resources.
The Reasons for the Growing Cultivation of Drugs in the West Bank
The director of the Palestinian anti-narcotics police department, Abdullah Alawi, explains the reasons for the growing cultivation of narcotic substances, especially in areas classified as "C" which are not under Palestinian security control according to the Oslo Accords that were signed between the PLO and Israel 25 years ago.
These areas have many security problems that have led drug dealers and gangs not only to promote drugs, but also to grow them in large commercial quantities, creating signs of a semi-organized crime characterized by the element of continuity.
Alawi says that drug dealers have an enormous ability to network and communicate with Palestinians who provide care and attention to the plantations in return for money. This makes the latter the incubators of the success of the drug agribusiness. Furthermore, he notes that drug dealers are mostly from Israel who create relations with Palestinians in the Jordan Valley, Jenin, Hebron and other areas especially those out of sight. To start growing, the dealers provide them with all commodities necessary for cultivation: seeds, greenhouses, nurseries, as well as advanced laboratories and modern electronic systems that control ventilation, humidity, lighting, irrigation and nutrition. This protects the Israeli dealer from bearing any security responsibility but rather passing it on to the Palestinian auxiliary.
Alawi adds that the majority of people involved in drug-dealing have criminal problems in Israel, for this reason they contact Palestinians in the West Bank, through marriage and purchase of land registered under the names of their new wives in order to start their plantation. This entails theft of water and electricity, which is especially problematic in the Jordan Valley where Palestinians already suffer from water shortages due to the fact that most of the water is allocated to the settlers.
Strangely enough, according to Alawi, the occupation cuts the value of stolen water and electricity from the money collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
Another aspect is that the Israeli government gives lands in Bardala, Kardala and Ain al-Baida in the Palestinian Jordan valley to settlers with criminal backgrounds for cultivation and exploitation. Alawi stresses that these lands are used for the cultivation of drugs under the names of agricultural projects and raising livestock, and furthermore exploiting Palestinian farmers who work in these projects after tempting them with money.
Fears of Worse Crimes - Human Trafficking
We cannot deal with this phenomenon in isolation from the Israeli occupation which is working according to a systematic policy. Alawi adds, "If we go back to the beginnings of Al-Aqsa Intifada, we find that Israel has facilitated the entry of stolen cars from Israel into the Palestinian territories. All those who were arrested on the basis of this crime, are back into the market with a crime of another kind which is drugs. The Mafia in Israel has found that these people are capable of carrying out their projects in the West Bank which is a dangerous indicator that threatens more dangers in the future as we can expect the beginnings of human trafficking crimes, if the drug phenomenon is not controlled.”
Through its work in the field of drug awareness since 1986, AlSaddiq Al-Tayeb Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Drug Addicts considers that there are a number of reasons that led to the growing cultivation of drugs from the northern West Bank to the south. Afaf Rabie, the awareness program officer, summarizes these reasons:
- The targeted areas are not tightly controlled by the Palestinian Authority (as they are in Area C)
- The difficult economic conditions and high unemployment rate, in addition to increasing corruption
- A new Israeli tactic to tighten its control, especially on the areas close to their border and the separation wall, through the spread of drugs, in terms of dealing, promotion and agriculture. After the spread in Jerusalem and the success of reaching a high percentage of Palestinian youth; Israel is working to reach more areas ( War on the Palestinian Existence)
- Israel targets areas in the Jordan Valley because it is considered the Palestinian “food basket”, and destroys their lands by spraying internationally prohibited pesticides, and plants drugs to further decrease the land and food available to Palestinians – this all reflects the occupation’s policy of increasing the dependence of Palestinians and further weakening their existence
- There is a security theory by the Israeli occupation to use mountains in the West Bank as experiment fields to extract hybrid Marijuana under medical pretense
- Farmers and land owners ignore laws and penalties that may fall on those who prove to have cultivated land with drug plantations
Gap in Studies on the Economic and Environmental Impact of Drug Plantations
None of the Palestinian or Arab organizations have studies that address the economic and environmental impact of drug cultivation. However, there are clear risks. For example, in agricultural nurseries large quantities of pesticides were found that are banned in the Palestinian territories. This is due to the fact that they have negative effects on the environment and public health, both in terms of killing organisms in the soil and affecting people’s health due to inhalation and ingestion.
The Director of the Narcotics Control Department Abdullah Alawi is asking for in-depth studies of the economic consequences of the cultivation of drugs instead of vegetables, as this decreases the land and farmers available.
The Director General of Rural Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, Salah Al-Baba, agrees with Alawi in this context, stressing that the farming of drugs leads to the depletion of natural resources in favor of illegal activities. This is especially dire due to the fact that the land and water resources are already limited in the Palestinian territories, mainly because of the Israeli occupation.
"In view of the control operations conducted by the security forces; most of them are in fertile lands. This means a threat to water security because water and its sources are mostly under the control of the occupation, and also a threat to food security because the cultivation of drugs robs the quotas that should have gone to useful crops”
Regarding the role of his ministry, which is a member of the National Committee for Drug Control, Salah said that various governmental departments give great importance to the issue by focusing on awareness and guidance, as well as through periodical follow-up visits on farms to ensure a proper use of land and natural resources.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh
Edited by: Clara Geiger