Saturday, April 16, 2005
fighting drug addiction among Palestinians
"In many countries of the world, when you talk about the war against drugs, journalists and commentators point the finger at government policies. This raises an issue particular to Palestine in the fight against drugs because Palestine has no government.
Shain works only in Jerusalem and so has no statistics on the West Bank or Gaza Strip. But he has strong opinions, if only with regard to Jerusalem. “Here it’s not a matter of having a government or not having a government,” says Shain. “It’s a political problem and however you look at it the Israeli government is to blame, because an occupying power is supposed to provide services. In Jerusalem the situation is worse because these people are directly controlled by the government in Tel Aviv.”
The director is harsh in his criticism. He emphasizes that “no part of our work is supported by government policy. We struggle to convince addicts to deal with their problem openly, but the government created clinics available only to those with a Jerusalem ID card. This excludes thousands of Palestinians from therapy. We’re trying to win the fight against addiction, but the Israel military does nothing to stop drug deals. Just take a walk around and you’ll see. The military doesn’t think twice about arresting the father of a family whose papers aren’t in order or a kid who throws a stone, but they don’t do a thing to halt the drug trade.
Their lack of interest is almost criminal and it has to make you wonder. It’s as if widespread drug addiction provided a kind of social control. They’d rather have a bunch of people high out of their minds than a group of citizens protesting in the street for their rights. And to top it off, they don’t help a bit with the final step of our program, which is to help addicts regain some self-esteem through the dignity of a job. Almost all Palestinians of working age are unemployed and there’s no government plan in sight that’s going to help.”
The already bleak situation has grown worse in recent years both in terms of quantity and quality with the rapid spread of new drugs. Our conversation has managed to avoid one problem in particular: HIV infection. Shain shows us to the door with a bitter smile. “There are so many problems and we don’t have any statistics on AIDS,” says the director. “It’s difficult to confront the head of the family here let alone get information on something like that. But we’ll get there, even if we have to do it alone.” Maybe it’s because Shain is someone who’s actually made it through or maybe it’s just because he’s too big to contradict, but in the end you almost believe him."