Under the noses of the Israeli police
Published by Ha’aretz – Monday 4 February, 2003
Drug use in East Jerusalem is rising steadily. Residents of the Palestinian city do not trust the Israeli police to efficiently combat the problem, but in the absence of enforcement institutions of their own they are helpless.
Drug dealers in East Jerusalem operate almost openly, say social workers and residents who are trying to combat the phenomenon. They claim that very often the dealers operate right under the noses of Israeli police officers – beside the branch of the Interior Ministry in East Jerusalem, in the vicinity of Damascus Gate, near the Flower Gate, in the Ras al Amud neighborhood beside the police headquarters and in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, right on the route taken by students on their way to school.
One does not need particularly sharp eyes to distinguish the pair of youths acting secretively in a corner and afterward hurriedly exchanging a handful of bills for something hidden in clenched fist. One does not have to be an expert to figure out that the youths on the corner of Sultan Suleiman St. are dragging on a hash or marijuana joint and not on a regular cigarette.
People in East Jerusalem can tell you that during the Christmas and New Year period, the drug of choice is LSD and that it is easy to obtain. That doesn’t mean that it is hard to obtain heroin. One social worker who deals with addicts says a gram of heroin costs $70-80 in Jerusalem markets these days, compared to $200 a few months ago. The laws of the free market economy work – the price drops when supply rises.
Addicted at 16
Once only the Shuafat refugee camp and the Old City were stigmatized as “drug dens.” Today, says Wisam Jawhan, who works in a Palestinian institute that advises and assists addicts and their families, drugs are everywhere. They have entrapped young people from all types of homes – religious and secular, rich and poor, refugees and the children of established Jerusalem families. Jawhan has also encountered young Palestinian women who use ecstasy and marijuana.
Each year the addicts Jawhan is asked to treat are younger and younger. If a 16-year-old is already an addict, one can only guess at what age he began using light drugs.
The high rate of drug users and addicts in East Jerusalem is another clear indication of the creation of a huge Palestinian slum in the Israeli capital. This symptom is joined by the tremendous extent of poverty (municipality statistics indicate that 66 percent of the Palestinians in Jerusalem live below the poverty line – more than anywhere else in the state), the blatant neglect of development and infrastructure, housing density that is among the highest in the city, building violations (for whatever reason) to the point of endangering lives, street gangs that control territory practically unimpeded, political-religious alienation between the authorities and the residents.
In 1999 the Arab Thought Forum (ATF), a center for Palestinian research in East Jerusalem, initiated a study of drug addiction among Palestinians in Jerusalem in order to increase anti-drug activity and reduce drug use. Addiction and the widespread use of drugs – with much higher levels than among Palestinian society in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and higher than among Jewish-Israeli society – have been worrying the capital’s Palestinian community for years.
Members of the ATF feel this use of drugs indicates the extent of social and personal frustration among the community’s youngsters, the disintegration of family cohesion, the demise of social and religious conventions and the apathy of the authorities.
The ATF’s study was conducted by sociologist Michel Sayegh, in conjunction with a group of field workers – rehabilitated addicts. The study was published in 2001, six months after the outbreak of the bloody hostilities of September 2000. Sayegh and Jawhan believe the number of drug users has only risen since then.
A livelihood from crime
It is hard to verify the estimates because, among other reasons, the Authority for the War Against Drugs in Israel was unable to provide Haaretz with updated figures on the extent of addiction in East Jerusalem so that they could be compared with the extent of addiction in Israel. The authority, the body that coordinates all the activities in this area also failed to provide information on the rehabilitation facilities available to Palestinians. Haaretz received no response to a list of questions sent to the authority’s spokesman, Shamai Golan, on January 6, 2003 and again on January 12, despite assurances that the information would be provided.
Sayegh based his research partially on the 1999 figures published by the authority. The gap between the ratio of drug users among the Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem is similar to the gap in the ratio between poor Jews and poor Arabs (27.8 percent compared to 66 percent). According to the figures published in Sayegh’s study, 10,500 Jerusalem Arabs (5.5 percent) used drugs in 1999, compared to 14,434 Jews (3.3 percent). These figures were provided by the Central Bureau of Statistics. Jawhan says that the figures do not portray the severity of the problem and estimates that some 19,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem are drug users and alcoholics.
Sayegh’s study found “only” 5,000 Palestinian drug addicts (2.4 percent of the Palestinian population). Statistics compiled by the anti-drug authority in 2000 showed that 6,000 Jerusalem Arabs (almost 3 percent) and 8,000 Jews (about 2 percent) were addicted to drugs. Sayegh also found some not very surprising correlations between socio-personal status and drug use. 94 percent of the fathers of the 250 addicts who participated in the study were unemployed or were not working for other reasons (such as disability, illness or age). Some 60 percent of those surveyed were from single parent families; the fathers of half of them were illiterate; 16.4 percent of the addicts were illiterate themselves, 29.6 percent had attended elementary school and 30.8 percent had completed ninth grade.
Sayegh’s research showed that a large proportion of the addicts were young adults, with 32 percent being between the ages of 20 and 22 at the time of the survey and 27.6 between 23 and 25. Most of the rest were older. Some 19.6 percent of those surveyed said their families were helping them financially, 46 percent said they earned a livelihood from theft and other crimes and the remaining 34.4 percent said they worked for a living or subsisted on savings from previous employment.
The scourge of drugs in East Jerusalem is worst and has been around the longest in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, according to local residents. The problem began back in the 1970s and was so bad that it was one of the main causes behind the emigration of many Christian families. Former addicts say that even today, any new drug that hits the market appears first in the Christian Quarter. People who are active locally in the war against drugs note that Christian families suffer most from more than one family member being an addict or drug user. On the one hand the Christian families have been more attracted to the modern customs of Western Jerusalem, but on the other, since most of these families are middle class, their ambitions for social and professional advancement, just like those of middle class Muslims, have been blocked in the city expropriated by Israel.
The families can afford higher education, but the Israeli job market was and is closed to Palestinian professionals such as doctors, lawyers and accountants, even though they are residents of Jerusalem. In Christian society, unlike in Muslim society, alcohol is permitted. This removes another important defense against dependency in cases in which personal-family status, frustration, a feeling of being trapped and unemployment lay the groundwork for addiction. And Palestinians in East Jerusalem have many reasons to feel personal frustration and depression, say Sayegh, Jawhan and other community workers like Maha Abu Dia, director of the Center from Women’s Counseling in East Jerusalem.
The center serves Palestinian women from the West Bank and Jerusalem, who complain of discrimination and violence both inside and outside the family. Abu Dia noticed that the complaints of violence or abuse in the home are not connected to drunkenness or drug addiction, while those of women from East Jerusalem usually stem from violence against them due to the addiction of a family member.
Many share Abu Dia’s impression that despite the poverty, frustration and depression among residents of the West Bank and Gaza, the problem of drug addiction is not as bad there as in East Jerusalem. The Palestinian police told social workers at a Palestinian rehabilitation center in the West Bank, there are about 5,000 addicts in each of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Sayegh and Jawhan note that this is purely and estimate, but agree that the phenomenon is much worse in Jerusalem.
Shin Bet collaboration
One reason for the difference between Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority (PA) areas is the accessibility of drugs. Jawhan say that the closer a Palestinian community is to the Green Line, the more drug users it will have. Another explanation is that families in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have a greater tendency to hide addiction from the eyes of society. This may affect the statistics, but it also reduces the friction and the exposure there. The damage caused to the institution of the Palestinian family in East Jerusalem is another reason: even in the Old City social workers have noticed that the exposure to drugs is much lower in the more religious Muslim neighborhoods and families, and it is reasonable to assume that this is true in traditional locales in general.
Another reason is that, contrary to what is happening in Jerusalem, the law enforcement authorities in the PA areas operate with more diligence. They have every intention of fighting the drug trade, all the more so because the drug trade is always linked with collaboration with the Israeli Shin Bet security services. Jerusalemites who are active in political organizations that have been outlawed by Israel say that more than once they have shared a prison cell with drug addicts, also Jerusalemites, who admitted at some stage or other that they have worked for the Shin Bet.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem say that the Israeli police is not doing all it can to halt the drug trade. Moderates say it is clear the police allocates most of its resources and efforts to security operations. Others, however, have the impression that in general more drug users than dealers are caught, and that the while drug sale locations that serve Jews are shut down within a week, those that serve only Arabs are allowed to continue to operate unhindered.
Before the hostilities resumed, members of the Palestinian preventative security forces operated almost openly against drug dealers. Today, sources at the Orient House say the if preventative security personnel or any other person from any Palestinian institute, including community workers, try to act against drug dealers, they are liable to be arrested on suspicion of “operating under the auspices of the PA.”
On the Mount of Olives, for example, a group of youths decided to beat up another group of youths, drug users and dealers who operated in the area unhindered. Local residents relate that it was the instigators of the beating who were arrested, not the dealers.
The poverty in the Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the neglect and the high rate of addiction are fertile ground for the flourishing of theories of conspiracy whereby the Israeli authorities, including the police, are actually interested in the social and moral deterioration that leads to the weakening of the Palestinian community. The Jerusalem police reject this claim out of hand. According to police figures, in the past year there was and 8.3-percent increase in police activity toward preventing drug-related crime in the eastern part of the city.
Of the 545 persons arrested for drug-related crimes in 2002, 255 were Palestinians. Three of the six undercover dealers operated by the police worked in East Jerusalem, leading to the arrest of 66 drug dealers. Last year 400 criminal files were opened in East Jerusalem (some people had two files against them) – 165 for drug-related offenses, 42 for possession of drugs not for consumption and about 60 for drug use. The police add that there is no basis for the claim that places where drugs are sold to Jews are closed down while those selling to Arabs remain open, if only for the simple reason that Jews have stopped buying drugs in the eastern part of the city. The police emphasize that there is no deliberate neglect of the war against drugs.
One thing that the police do not dispute is the willingness of the Palestinian society to assist in catching drug dealers. Palestinians admit that their revulsion to drug dealers and their fear of the spread of addiction outweigh their apprehension and hesitation regarding calling on the Israeli police. The police concur that the Palestinians help the police in the war against drugs more than in any other area of crime. Residents are quite willing to let the police use their rooftops as lookouts for drug dealers and when patrol vehicles come to pick up dealers local residents do not crowd around the vehicles in an attempt to delay them, as the do in other types of cases.