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Hashish grows again in the fields of Lebanon (Independent UK)

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  • Islamic News and Information Network
    Assalamu alaikum, Hashish grows again in the fields of Lebanon Why farmers in Hermel have more faith in Gold than government By Robert Fisk 01 July 2001
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2001

      Hashish grows again in the fields of Lebanon

      Why farmers in Hermel have more faith in 'Gold' than government

      By Robert Fisk
      01 July 2001


      At first, it looks like a cornfield. But step a few metres into the corn
      and the stooks turn into little bright-green trees with spiky leaves, all
      swaying in the breeze up the narrow mountain valley. When my guide started
      gesticulating towards another, smaller field, I pleaded with him not to
      point. There are gunmen aplenty in these hills in the same dark Mercedes
      they used in the civil war but the man laughed.

      "You're perfectly safe with me here," he said.

      That's when I realised this was his hashish field. "You know what we are
      doing?" he asked. "It's a kind of challenge from us to the Lebanese
      government, a challenge from an impoverished people.

      The Beirut government boasted back in 1994 that it had eradicated the drug
      fields of Lebanon, burning and poisoning the thousands of acres of hashish
      and the smaller though more lethal dunums of poppies that produced
      Lebanon's heroin exports.

      The Americans and the UN's anti-drugs units clapped their hands. We were
      even invited to watch the army burn the fields. But today "Lebanese gold"
      the finest hashish grown in the country is back, albeit in comparatively
      small quantities. "This is not 1 per cent of what we used to grow in the
      civil war," the Hermel landowner insisted, a point he rather spoiled by
      inviting us to see a larger field a few miles down the road.

      The air is clear up here, the midday sky pale-blue against the hot grey
      mountains, a tributary of the Orontes river, green and cold, irrigating
      the hashish.

      "What can we do?" the man asks, opening his hands. "We were promised aid
      from the government in return for destroying our fields, new agricultural
      projects, new crops to take the place of hashish. But my four sons and
      three daughters, some of them married, are all living in my home because
      they have no money for a house of their own. We live off the only one of
      my sons who has a job and he brings home just 500,000 Lebanese pounds
      (243) a month." Which is true. The dealers make the money; the growers do
      the work.

      Nor does his assessment meet with any surprise in the office of the United
      Nations Development Project chief technical adviser down the Bekaa Valley
      in Baalbek. Mohamed Ferjani hands me a document he sent to his superiors
      in 1994, the year the Lebanese announced the end of illicit crop
      cultivation and the start of a programme to encourage alternative crops.

      "The absence of development efforts and international community support
      will mean the return of illicit crops and border traffic," Ferjani had
      presciently written. His voice rises as he explains his frustration.
      "There was no regional development plan and the government's programme for
      the area was launched with high expectation on the part of the
      beneficiaries [the farmers] but with less than 6 per cent of the
      estimated required funds."

      After the civil war, the Hermel men at first believed in their new role as
      legal farmers, cultivating tomatoes, tobacco, wheat and water melons. A
      Hermel schoolteacher and his wife told me of the outcome of broken
      promises: "First the government gave us a ton of seed potatoes and then,
      without warning, it became half a ton," the teacher said. "Then many of
      the families who applied for licences to grow tobacco were refused
      permission. I don't know why."

      On its near-desert plateau, Hermel got a bad name. It became known
      unfairly, according to its 83-year-old mukhtar (town leader) as a drugs
      town and, because of the location of nearby Hizbollah guerrilla training
      camps, as a town of "terrorists" and gunmen. Old Haj Asaad bin
      Daibis-Jouheri, smoking a cigarette from a holder in his thin wiry hands,
      tried to explain his town's story. "We used to survive on wheat, barley,
      chickpea growing, and we were simple people. Then there came schools and
      new clothes and people needed money. People became more reliant on
      earning. But we got no real help. People really go hungry here. And now
      the media have started a war against this region."

      Nor are things going to get better. "At the time of the government's new
      programme, Lebanon was an exporter of vegetables and fruit, especially to
      the Gulf and Iraq," Mr Ferjani says. "Then came the Second [1991] Gulf War
      and Iraq was sanctioned and the Turks, Egyptians and others started
      exporting to the Gulf. And the people here grew much poorer."

      You only have to drive round the Hermel area to understand what this
      means. There are patches of wheat and a few watermelon farms. But much of
      the landscape I passed through was sand and rock and acres of rubbish, the
      ground, even along the banks of the Orontes, blossoming with old plastic
      bags and rusting car parts. Up in the hills, the gunmen follow all
      visitors "they have no ideology," Mr Ferjani warned and I suspect they
      are working for men in Amsterdam rather than Beirut. So far, the
      government has done nothing and the police turn a familiar Lebanese blind
      eye. Because, I guess, the fields are still few and far between, scarcely
      10,000 dunums in all, according to a foreign aid worker. And after all,
      the farmers are not growing poppies for heroin and opium. Not yet.

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