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Enjoy Your High, But Not at the Expense of Palestinian Human Rights

Israel’s medical cannabis industry is legitimizing crimes against humanity in its eagerness for market share.

An Israeli woman works on marijuana plants at the Breath Of Life Pharma greenhouse in the country's second-largest medical cannabis plantation, near Kfar Pines in northern Israel, on March 9, 2016.

Medical cannabis is considered the next up-and-coming miracle drug, with very few side effects. But with Israeli companies bursting onto the international market, medical cannabis exported from Israel may soon have to come with a new warning. Beware: purchase of this product may contribute to violations of Palestinian human rights.

The Israeli medical cannabis industry, as it is currently set up, whitewashes Israeli war crimes, provides legitimacy and profits for people responsible for past massacres in Gaza, and supports Israel’s illegal settlement, a direct cause of Palestinian suffering.

On December 28, the Israeli Knesset approved legislation for the legal export of medical cannabis. While the law still needs to be finalized — it needs the prime minister’s signature — exports are expected to begin by the end of 2019, and the Israeli cannabis industry is celebrating. Saul Kaye, CEO of iCAN, an Israeli venture fund and medical cannabis technology incubator, boasted, “Israel, already the most advanced nation in cannabis R&D, will now be able to produce and market cannabis and cannabis-based products that will help millions of people.”

The global medical cannabis market is expected to reach $28 billion by 2024 and Israel is already a big part of it. Thanks to a merger with Canada’s Aurora, the Israeli medical cannabis company Tikun Olam holds a value of $400 million. Another company called Together Pharma, which has products for sale in Delaware and Washington State, and will soon sell medical marijuana in California and Florida, was valued at 300 million shekels (around $83 million) as of October 2018. InterCure, an Israeli holding company for small medical cannabis firms, is valued at around $180 million. InterCure aims to produce 100 tons of medical cannabis by 2020.

In September 2018, InterCure, looking to further its enormous financial success, brought on former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to be the company’s chairman. As chairman, Barak receives a $10,000 monthly salary and has InterCure stock options worth more than $12.3 million.

While Barak may now be profiting off a company charged with the distribution and promotion of a fantastic and helpful product, Barak’s history toward one entire group of human beings — Palestinians — has been the opposite of healing.

Securing Profits for Israeli War Criminals

Barak served 35 years in the Israeli military, rising to the rank of Rav Aluf (lieutenant-general), the highest possible rank, and was the Israeli military’s most decorated soldier. Between 1999 and 2001, he served as prime minister and then held the posts of minister of defense and deputy prime minister between 2009 and 2013.

During his military service, Barak led Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 Operation Cast Lead war against Gaza, which killed almost 1,400 Palestinians, including 344 Palestinian minors killed in Gaza by the Israeli military. He was minister of defense during Israel’s 2010-11 Pillar of Defense offensive on Gaza, killing 167 Palestinians (mostly civilians), and the Israeli Navy’s 2010 attack on the MV Mavi Marmara — a Turkish boat sailing as part of an international flotilla to break the siege on Gaza — where 10 unarmed activists were murdered.

In 2009, British lawyers petitioned a London court to arrest Ehud Barak on charges of war crimes and breach of the Geneva Convention. In 2010, lawyers in Belgium brought charges against him for war crimes, including the use of the chemical weapon white phosphorus during Operation Cast Lead. In 2015, Barak was sued in the United States for his role in the Mavi Marmara flotilla massacre. The lawsuit was filed by the parents of Turkish-American citizen Furkan Doğan, who was shot multiple times at point-blank range during the raid. “If those who took part in the decision are not held to account, then … there is nothing to prevent the Israelis deciding to take such aggressive action in the future,” Doğan’s father said.

Barak, having largely managed to evade accountability, is now rebranding himself as a leader in medicinal cannabis healing.

While Barak’s InterCure may be the most obviously problematic Israeli cannabis company, it is not the only one entangled in occupation. The company Together Pharma lists Guy Atia, an “expert in the security field,” as co-director and controlling shareholder, and retired Brigadier General Meir Ben Yishai as being in charge of “defense and security.” While it isn’t clear exactly what roles these two men play in the company, usually in Israel, the terms “defense” and “security” have some link to Israel’s military occupation and settlement economy.

In September 2018, Together Pharma set up a joint subsidiary with Dead Sea cosmetic company Premier, whose products are featured at the Dead Sea resort of Kibbutz Kalia in an illegal Kalya, West Bank, settlement.

In January 2017, the first Israeli-recognized academic course for medical cannabis began. Students in the course learn the history, legal background, regulation and current status of medical cannabis in Israel. They study cannabis’s active ingredients, farming, various technologies and innovative developments, and even “moral dilemmas” involved in the product. What isn’t addressed is that the course is held at Ariel University, located in the illegal settlement of Ariel, thereby directly contributing to Palestinian suffering and violations of international law.

Having Ehud Barak as lead in one of Israel’s largest medical cannabis companies sends a message to the world that there is no necessity in holding Israel accountable for massacres in Gaza. This applies not just to the past, to the war crimes Barak is guilty of, but clears the way for Israel to continue on an ongoing basis to commit such crimes. On February 28, 2019, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a statement that the actions Israel has been carrying out in Gaza over the past 11 months may constitute crimes against humanity. Since March 30, 2018, Israel has shot more than 6,000 people with live ammunition, killing 189, including 35 children, at protests near Israel’s fence around Gaza. The U.N. investigation stated there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognizable as such.”

By welcoming into their community the man responsible for Israel’s 2008-09 and 2010-11 assaults on Gaza, the Israeli cannabis industry is giving a stamp of approval for the continuation of such massacres.

Like Barak’s leadership, the Israeli cannabis industry’s involvement in settlements whitewashes and contributes to human rights abuses against Palestinians. The United Nations is unequivocal that such settlements are illegal, the Fourth Geneva Convention stating that an “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” A January 2016 report by Human Rights Watch details how settlements businesses contribute directly to violations of Palestinian human rights and that businesses should immediately “cease carrying out activities inside or for the benefit of settlements.” Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have specifically called for an end to settlement tourism, and certainly this should apply to academic courses in settlement universities as well. Vacation rental giant Airbnb heeded this advice in November 2018, announcing the removal of West Bank settlement listing due to settlements being “at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Medical Cannabis as a Socially Responsible Industry?

It isn’t just in Israel that the cannabis industry has veered away from its “one love” Bob Marley social justice roots. Spend more than a few minutes watching CNN and you will see a commercial from former Speaker of the House John Boehner telling you that you, too, can benefit financially from the newly legalized cannabis industry. Progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, meanwhile, recently spoke out about the U.S. cannabis industry’s failings to right the wrongs of the U.S. drug war: “Is this industry representative of the communities that have historically beared [sic] the greatest brunt of injustice based on the prohibition of marijuana?” Ocasio-Cortez asked in a congressional hearing. As she cited, in Colorado and Washington State, where cannabis is legal, 81 percent of cannabis executives are white, 73 percent are male; while in Massachusetts, only 2.2 percent of cannabis businesses are owned by women and 3.1 percent are owned by people of color.

But American cannabis, even as it is being run by white men co-opted to fit with Republican-style winner-takes-all capitalism, doesn’t carry the same baggage as Israeli occupation.

Ever since I turned 40, I have suffered from insomnia. I fall asleep easily enough but then, around three or four in the morning, I wake up and can’t fall back asleep. I’ve found through trial-and-error, the most effective sleep aid is a light puff on a joint.

I’m a big fan of medical cannabis. Along with sleep disorders, cannabis has been proven effective in treating PTSD, cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s disease, anorexia, glaucoma, schizophrenia, muscle spasms, nausea, pain, and more.

I have no need to purchase cannabis products from Israel. Plenty of local (non-John Boehner), organic, high-grade medical cannabis is grown and distributed throughout the United States, without the profits going to pay war criminals or whitewash Israel’s settlement economy. From small and large family farms in Northern California to personal cultivation in Washington, D.C., when I go into a dispensary to look for strains and methods of administration to help me sleep, I am able to shop locally and purchase from farmers and companies that guarantee such things as living wages and health benefits for their workers. Since I don’t want to contribute to Palestinian human rights abuses, I will now make sure I don’t purchase cannabis from InterCure or Together Pharma’s U.S. subsidy or any other Israeli-owned cannabis company. I hope the next time you go into a cannabis dispensary you, too, will make sure that your relief does not contribute to Israeli apartheid.

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