Silwan is a Palestinian village in East Jerusalem. It has 55,000 inhabitants. In 1967, the village was occupied by Israel, and ever since has been under Israeli control and a part of the Jerusalem municipality. The taxpaying residents of Silwan hold East Jerusalem residence IDs, however, the residents are not considered citizens of Israel and thus cannot vote to parliament. Since 1967 the municipality has not invested in the development of East Jerusalem. The education system and municipal planning have not been improved, and Silwan has been almost entirely neglected. Most of the young residents are forced into low-paying jobs. The once pastoral village sunk into poverty and neglect.
Since the 1990s the area of Silwan has come under Zionist pressure due to the building of the City of David tourist site, which makes spurious archaeological claims to delegitimise the existence of this Palestinian village and Palestinian history, and to and legitimize Israel’s claims to the land. Houses are regularly demolished to make way for the City of David and the planned ‘national park’. Additionally, archaeological excavations are carried out beneath private residences without the residents being consulted. Recently, entire sections of peoples homes have collapsed due to the excavations destroying their foundations. This archaeological site has a distinct political agenda; it seeks to eradicate the history and archaeological remains of other communities that have lived in Silwan, whilst promoting a Jewish link to the area. It is part of the wider ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and seeks to Judaize Silwan.
Increasing numbers of Israeli settlers moving into the neighborhood, are ‘protected’ by private security. Settler attacks on Palestinians are not uncommon, violent clashes and arrests of Palestinians occur almost daily. As one 43 year old resident told me ‘there is not one quiet day in Silwan.’ The arrest and detention of children accused of throwing stones in commonplace; and recently a 12 year old boy was arrested for the tenth time.
Alongside house demolitions, arrests of children, clashes with the private security, Israeli police and the IOF (Israeli Occupation Forces), and the ‘uncovering’ of the City of David, Israel implements more subtle, indirect means of controlling and ultimately ethnically cleansing the population of Silwan. A major factor underpinning this project is the drugs trade in Silwan.
A variety of drugs (including hashish, heroin, cocaine, and crystal) became available in Silwan during the 1980s. Although appearing to disappear during the first years of the First Intifada (1987-1993), they became readily available again after the Madrid Conference in 1991. Residents believe that the increased availability of these drugs was part of a systematic plan by Israel to draw Palestinians into dependency and out of the resistance. To this day, Israeli citizens supply the drugs trade, the Israeli secret police monitor it with the intent to fuel the self destruction of Palestinian people and Palestinian communities. It must be noted that, according to sources, drugs are not and were not made and or grown in historic Palestine or Israel. Instead, drugs are brought in through the borders by the Israeli army. As soon as drugs are imported across the borders they are directed towards cities in historic Palestine with a larger Palestinian populations such as Lod or Akka, or into Palestinian neighborhoods like Silwan.
The trade is manufactured so that Israeli citizens operate at the top of the chain. Israelis deal to Palestinians, who then distribute the drugs throughout Palestinian communities. This system ensures that Israelis are the greatest economic beneficiaries of the drugs trade. Through CCTV and through collaborating informants on the ground the Israeli secret police monitor this network; if a Palestinian deals to an Israeli they are arrested, their drugs are seized and then filtered back into the Israeli controlled network. One fifty year old male user said that if the police catch him using, they only arrest him if he is with an Israeli. Similarly, a 60 year old ex-user explained to me that he had been imprisoned numerous times for dealing to Israelis, but when he dealt to Palestinians the police ‘turned a blind eye’. The only drugs allowed in Silwan are drugs supplied by Israelis, if a Palestinian deals drugs that are sourced outside of this Israeli controlled network then they are arrested, their drugs are seized and again filtered back into this Israeli controlled network. This ensures that the Israelis can monitor the racialized supply and the quality of the drugs sold. Highly addictive and potentially lethal drugs are circulated, leading to individual dependency, community destruction, and sometimes even deaths.
Why use? Why deal?
Due to the apartheid nature of Jerusalem and the political and structural violence used against them, Palestinians have every right to resist. Unfortunately resistance, whether it be children throwing stones or other forms of activism, usually results in those individuals not having a ‘clean’ criminal record. For example, in the period between November 2009 and October 2010, 1,267 children were arrested and had criminal charges brought against them for allegations of stone throwing#. It is routine for employers in Jerusalem to consult an individual’s criminal file, therefore anyone with a marked file will not be able to work legitimately. The appeal of dealing becomes apparent for some young men seeking a real economic alternative. In a capitalist world, everyone wants a piece of the pie, especially when one considers the 75 % poverty of Silwan (www.silwanic.net). In addition to this, the racist allocation of jobs – often obscured by criminal record checks – results in young men having an excess of spare time. Drug use is common for pleasure and of course for escapism from the harsh and frustrating political environment engulfing the lives of young Palestinians. The reality of house demolitions, arrests, the Judaisation of their land, clashes with the police etc, results in drug use becoming a coping mechanism.
As well as the structural aspects of poverty and unemployment/underemployment that contributes to young men choosing to enter the drugs trade, Israel also makes direct advances to ensure more and more people are becoming dealers and users. One way in which this is done is by Israeli police offering drugs to children who have been arrested with the hope that they will then go on to become dealers. Children are also targeted and asked to work for the Israelis as informants on the ground. In a similar way, young Israeli women are sent into the area with the intent of seducing Palestinian men, convincing them to work as informants or dealers.
Despite dependency rates being high, at the time of writing there are only two rehabilitation centers in Jerusalem, both of which are private. I was told that it costs thousands of Shekels to enter these centers. A twenty-two year old resident of Silwan explained to me that this is simply another way for Israel to make money from Palestinians. Two young men in their mid twenties explained to me that within these centers, apartheid is still practised. In contrast to Israeli service users, Palestinians are locked in a room, left to go ‘cold turkey’ with no medical or psychological support. For users on the ground, there is no needle exchange point, and so those who do inject run the risk of contracting life threatening and easily transmittable diseases such as Hepatitis C and HIV.
The drugs trade is a systematic means by which Israel is attempting to ensure the self destruction of Silwan. Fortunately, the community has now recognized this more subtle form of ethnic cleansing and coercion, and is promoting educational campaigns which seek to highlight that fact that drugs are being used as a political weapon against Palestinians. Although drug use is still prevalent, fewer young people are being drawn in as they become aware of how Israel benefits from the trade.
Neo liberalism ensures that drug addicts always carry the blame for their addiction. Wider structural factors such as poverty and apartheid are never considered as relevant in this individualistic view. In reality, it is racialized Israeli policies which systematically ensure that the drugs trade flourishes, creating generations addicted to substances, or addicted to the money that dealing brings, providing Palestinians with the tools to effectively erode the social fabric of Palestinian society and to subsequently break down the resistance front.
The drugs trade is one of many examples of the indirect ways in which Israel exercises its hegemony and presence over Palestinians and their communities. Apartheid runs much deeper than visible symbols such as the apartheid wall and the checkpoints, it operates through the systematic control over the racialized access to drugs, and seeks to promote Palestinian self destruction.