A military court in the Gaza Strip has sentenced two men to death after they were found guilty of drug dealing, the independent Palestinian media outlet Ma'an News Agency reported March 19. At a press conference in Gaza City, a representative of the Strip's Interior Ministry—controlled by the Hamas movement—said that the first "convict," an officer in the Palestinian Authority security service, was sentenced to death by firing squad for possession of 40 boxes of the synthetic opiate Tramadol. The second, also Palestinian and described as a "fugitive on the run," was sentenced to death by hanging after he was allegedly caught with a bag containing "a large quantity" of Tramadol, cannabis, and opium. Both are accused of bringing the substances in from across the border with Egypt.
Despite the fact that the stuff was allegedly brought in from Egypt, the Hamas authoriites illogically tried to blame Israel in the case. The Interior Ministry statement said that what Israel "failed to achieve through war and siege, it will not succeed to do through spreading drugs. Anyone who deals drugs, his crime is no less than those who spy for the [Israeli] occupation; their goal is the same: to destroy Palestinian society."
This apparently marks the first time that the death penalty has been imposed in Gaza for a drug-related offense, though a number of Palestinians in the Strip have been sentenced to death in recent months after being found guilty of collaborating with Israel, or of murder.
Widespread imposition of the death penalty by Gaza's Hamas authorities has been protested by Human Rights Watch and, more recently, by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights—who both decry that it is even imposed for alleged crimes committed by minors.
And these senteces were handed down just as Israel, Hamas' arch-enemy, is moving to legalize recreational cannabis.
This once again brings to mind the recent controversies over "pinkwashing"—trumpeting Israel's good record on gay rights as a form of propaganda to justify or distract attention from the ongoing siege and occupation of the Palestinian territories. If Israel becomes the Netherlands of the Middle East under the new legalization policy, we anticipate a similar dielmma. International cannabis afficionados could be faced with accusations of "greenwashing" if they applaud the Jewish state for its progress, or travel there to toke in a free atmosphere.
It's a tricky question. No matter how gay-friendly or cannabis-friendly Israel may be, that isn't a license to defy international law by continuing to occupy, besiege and dispossess the Palestinians.
On the other hand, the fact that the Palestinians are occupied in the West Bank and under siege in Gaza doesn't let their leadership off the hook for hanging people for cannabis possession. Both abuses should be called out by all global citizens concerned with human freedom.
Maybe, if enough outcry is raised (and not just by pro-Israel types, but by opponents of Israel's siege and occupation), there is still time to save the lives of these men, and stop a dangerous precedent from being set.