Middle East Peace and Drugs Conference Coverage

JERUSALEM – “Legalizing cannabis is not impossible, neither is peace in the Middle East,” 26-year-old Lola Vilenkin tells applauding hippies at the first Arab-Israeli conference on peace and drugs. Shaggy haired pensioners, young professionals, and students descended on Israel’s most prestigious university Wednesday for the one-day extravaganza sponsored by “The Prince of Pot,” Canadian cannabis activist Marc Emery.
An eclectic crowd of men with dreadlocks and skullcaps, men and women with flowing tresses and psychedelic clothes, buzz around, swapping stories of intolerance from a pot-phobic public, amid wafts of thinly-disguised cannabis. People like Yossi, an ultra-friendly retired deep-sea diver dressed like a biker. Bare-chested under his sleeveless denim jacket, he needs a stick to get around owing to a work accident.

“I hope you come up with some wonderful ideas and I’ll be broadcasting it on Pot TV,” beams Emery in a video from Canada aired after technical glitches in a cramped and stuffy conference room at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Emery, who faces extradition to the United States and a life sentence for selling marijuana seeds and “laundering” the profits into cannabis legalization efforts, owns Web-based video channel, Pot TV.

Dominating the line-up is Green Leaf, Israel’s wackiest political party that has unsuccessfully run in the past three general elections on a platform of legalizing cannabis, protecting the environment, and peace in the Middle East.

Party chairman, US-educated Boaz Wachtel, champions a link between relaxing Israel’s drug policy and regional peace, hauling “prohibition” over the coals for “dragging the entire word to the brink of disaster.”

“The illegal drug trade in the Middle East is feeding the terrorist activities of radical Islamist movements with endless money supplies. If anybody has an idea to make peace, I suggest you act on it,” Wachtel urges, promoting a peace plan in which Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians, and Syria would buy water from Turkey in an environmentally sustainable project.

The Russian-born Vilenkin, a counselor and avid Green Leaf campaigner, is convinced that peace and love when it comes to drugs can have a knock-on effect in kick-starting peace efforts in the deeply troubled region. “The only time in my life I had an equal conversation [at an Arab-Jewish peace meeting]was when there was a bong on the table, and we talked about when we smoked and what it was like,” she says.

Delegates bandy around small talk such as “I live in Holland” and “You’re so lucky.” Israel rock band Primo Levy provides a post-lunch interlude that sets the most hardcore delegates jumping to the beat. “I’m against drugs. I don’t do drugs,” announces the frontman. “We do!” shouts one undeterred member of the audience.

Such philosophy tugs at the heart strings of British-born craftswoman and mother-of-three Billie Ben Asher, who lives in the Red Sea resort of Eilat. Sporting a green kaftan, navy trousers, self-made purple shoes, and a grey blanket under her flowing auburn hair, she sees nothing wrong with twinning drug-use and peace. “More people who use marijuana and hashish have a more peaceful mind than a war mind. Jews and Arabs, we live in the same country, we need to start working together,” she says.

Yet for Arabs, discourse about drugs is either taboo or light years ahead of far more immediate concerns for Palestinians: struggling against Israeli occupation, and Arab Israelis battling discrimination.

Despite dubbing their event “The First Arab-Israeli Joint Conference on Peace and Drugs Policy,” organizers admit problems in finding an Arab to confess openly on stage that they smoke cannabis. Three scheduled Arab-Israeli speakers pulled out, with Shirin Yassin, a 24-year-old Palestinian radio producer from East Jerusalem, recruited at the very last minute to maintain an illusion of solidarity. For her, drugs is about desperation not about peace, and she has little in common with the Jewish hippies who heard her speak.

“You can make peace with anyone, but I think drugs is the wrong way,” she later admits in private. “We have so many restrictions of movement and opinion. We don’t have freedom of anything. There are bigger issues for us than being happy by taking drugs.”

– Jennie Matthew, Middle East Times

Green Leaf hopeful, says Marijuana will end the conflict
By Yael Ivri October 26, 2006

Weed for peace? Marijuana may achieve the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — or at least so believe members of the Green Leaf party, which organized the First Israeli-Arab Joint conference at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University Wednesday.

Chairman of the Green Leaf party, Ohad Shem-Tov, explained the idea behind the conference. “Many youths, Jewish and Arab, act the same due to cannabis. This similarity creates a basis for common identity, identity that exists culturally as well owing to the music created around the use of cannabis. We believe this creates a basis for something that can in the future bring peace,” Shem-Tov said.

The conference also hosted many speakers. However, most of the speakers preferred to disregard the drug’s peace-generating potential in favor of addressing its health benefits, the need for legalization, and invariable anger against “the establishment.”

‘Marijuana reconsidered’

The most conspicuous speaker at the event was Professor Lester Grinspoon, former Harvard lecturer in psychiatry and considered one of the top experts in the world on marijuana and its medical uses. His book “Marijuana Reconsidered” was published in 1971 with the aim of warning marijuana users of harm caused by the drug. However, in the process of writing, Grinspoon started to change his mind.

In addressing Green Leaf and their supporters Wednesday, Grinspoon explained that during his research, he started thinking he’d been mislead all these years about the drugs negative effects and wanted to try marijuana. However, out of concern this would interfere with the scientific objectivity his research, he decided to delay his first toke — until after the book’s publication.

By the end of the conference, Green Leaf’s vision of peace did not seem to be any nearer, especially considering the fact that all the Arab speakers invited to the conference cancelled at the last minute.

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