Source: 21st Century Wire
Ask any hippie or smuggler from 1950 onwards – tales of Lebanese hashish are legendary. Today, ISIS is providing the latest twist along the Silk Road…
As the saying goes, “A breeze in Syria becomes a storm in Lebanon”.
Lebanon’s pot growers have found themselves on the frontline in their country’s defense against an ISIS surge over their eastern border.
Farmers say they are armed and ready to fight off any ISIS encroachment into the Bekaa Valley.
Already in Syria, near Aleppo, ISIS gangs have been torching cannabis fields, labeling the plant as haram, or ‘forbidden’ in their version of Islam. ISIS militants in northern Syria posted their anti-drug exploits on YouTube in late August.
Watch their propaganda video below:
(If only ISIS stood downwind and could inhale some of the smoke – they might adopt a mellower approach to jihad):
The cannabis industry has always been an integral part of the Lebanese farming economy.
Dating all the way back to the Ottoman era, for centuries Lebanon’s fertile Bekaa Valley, just 40 kilometers from the Syrian border, has produced one of the world’s finest cannabis products, Lebanese Red and Blonde hashish and ‘pollen’.
The late 20th century episode of Lebanon’s hashish empire is as complicated as it is colourful. Syria occupied a large portion of the Bekaa, during and after the Lebanese Civil War, from 1976 – 2005, with an estimated half of all available agricultural land being used to grow both cannabis (processed into hashish) and opium poppy (processed into heroin). Once the civil war ended in 1990, Syria, Lebanon and the UN went through the motions of eradicating the cannabis crops the Bekaa. According to Sensi Seeds:
“Between 1991 and 1994, around 30,000 hectares of cannabis was destroyed, leaving 250,000 people and 23,000 family farms bereft of a primary source of income. It is alleged that (while thousands of small-scale farmers were left impoverished) the largest smuggling organisations were compensated with seats in the government.”
In 2001, Hezbollah took a more assertive role in lobbying in Beirut to preserve the Bekaa Valley’s local Shia farmers’ cannabis crop livelihoods, but critics also point out that their role wasn’t purely altruistic, but also had a profit motive through a type of protection racket.
“Control of the volatile region is an ongoing challenge. Violent clashes between rival gangs and with the armed forces have increased since 2005; Hezbollah has generally left it to the army to deal with the unrest, and has been slow to enact decisive policies regarding the future of the region.”
Whatever it is, it seems to be working, and an added bonus has been that because of the destablization and ‘ISIS crisis’ in Syria next door, Lebanese Security Services patrols have become over-stretched along the porous border, leaving cannabis growers and distributors with record profits in 2014.
Fiercely independent residents of the Bekaa know the economic power of their crops, and see them as a national asset, rather than a hazard. Pot kingpin Noah Zaiter, of the Zaiter Clan, once stated publicly that, “Make Marijuana and hashish legal for six months and I’ll pay down all government debt ($36 billion)”.
SBS.au spoke to one grower, 65-year-old farmer Abo Hamoudi, about the current situation, reporting, “In the past, the Lebanese army would descend yearly on this area to destroy the illicit crop, leading to heavy clashes with cannabis farmers. Mr Hamoudi says for the last two years, the army has looked the other way.”
“They’re distracted with Islamic State and are fighting on the border. And we also fight with the army. In two days my turn to fight will come on the border between here and Syria. We fight them on the border so they don’t come inside here.”
Meanwhile, the trade is expanding. Farmer Ali Nasri Shamas, explains, “Every year we are increasing the areas we are planting. We are doing what we have said we would do. Three years ago, we told them [the Lebanese authorities] we will plant double. We did, and we will confront them. The next year, we promised them we would plant five times that amount. We did and we confronted them. And we will increase it every year.”
“Either they provide an alternative, they legalize it or it will be a confrontation between us and them.”
Contributors to this report were 21WIRE senior researcher Peter Sterry, sub editor Jason Smith and writer Patrick Henningsen.