As it is passover this great little feature from Cannigma is worth mentioning…
Off the coast of British Mandatory Palestine, two bandits hide in a tiny sailboat as it bobs on the waves. They await their mark and as a southbound smuggling ship crosses their path, skipper Aryeh Bayevski and his friend Isaac intercept the boat, rush on board brandishing knives and hatchets, and rob the smugglers of their hashish shipment.
The smugglers sail back to Lebanon or Syria to try their luck a different day, while the two Jewish would-be pirates head for shore to spend the booty on “wild campfire drinking.”
This story of ad-hoc piracy off the coast of modern day Israel is but one of many anecdotes in “Intoxicating Zion: A Social History of Hashish in Mandatory Palestine and Israel,” published in October by Stanford University Press. Billed as “the first book to tell the story of hashish in Mandatory Palestine and Israel,” it depicts how following World War I, Palestine became the most important transit point for hashish in the Middle East, leaving British and French colonial authorities — and later Israeli law enforcement — utterly at a loss to stop the flow of hashish.
It also paints a compelling picture of the ways in which the same anti-cannabis propaganda of the “Reefer Madness” era found an audience in Israel, where fear-mongering about hashish adopted a very similar, racially charged, panicked tone to the one that took hold stateside.
The book was released in early October, though Author Haggai Ram said he has yet to receive his copy of the book — as it, perhaps fittingly, disappeared after it entered customs in Israel.
How Israel became a smuggling hub of the Levant
During the years covered in the book — from the 1920s during the British Mandate in Palestine and up to Israel’s victory in the Six Day War in 1967 — the country was the main trafficking route for hash traveling from Lebanon and Syria to Egypt, then the region’s largest consumer market for hashish. The book describes how smuggling hashish to Egypt was a massive business for traffickers sailing in boats from Greece — then the main source country for Egypt-bound hashish — which would be spirited across the Mediterranean in boats from the small islands in the Greek archipelago where cannabis was grown at the time.
The book describes how anti-cannabis measures began in earnest in Greece in the 1920s leading to the country’s eventual prohibition on cannabis cultivation in 1932. From that point on, the Levant hashish trade from grow operations in Lebanon and Syria south across Palestine to Egypt reigned supreme.
Ram paints a picture of law enforcement authorities who were totally outnumbered and no match for the smuggling schemes by sea and by land, especially in the south of the country, where Bedouin smugglers made an especially challenging quarry. They knew the desert better than anyone, but they also had especially sophisticated and cruel methods of hiding their contraband — both on and later inside their camels.
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When European powers carved political borders across the Middle East following World War I, a curious event in the international drug trade occurred: Palestine became the most important hashish waystation in the region and a thriving market for consumption. British and French colonial authorities utterly failed to control the illicit trade, raising questions about the legitimacy of their mandatory regimes. The creation of the Israeli state, too, had little effect to curb illicit trade. By the 1960s, drug trade had become a major point of contention in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and drug use widespread.
Intoxicating Zion is the first book to tell the story of hashish in Mandatory Palestine and Israel. Trafficking, use, and regulation; race, gender, and class; colonialism and nation-building all weave together in Haggai Ram’s social history of the drug from the 1920s to the aftermath of the 1967 War. The hashish trade encompassed smugglers, international gangs, residents, law enforcers, and political actors, and Ram traces these flows through the interconnected realms of cross-border politics, economics, and culture. Hashish use was and is a marker of belonging and difference, and its history offers readers a unique glimpse into how the modern Middle East was made.
About the author
Haggai Ram is Associate Professor of Middle East History at Ben Gurion University. He is the author of Myth and Mobilization in Revolutionary Iran (1994) and Iranophobia: The Logic of an Israeli Obsession (Stanford, 2009).