Protesters against Jewish settlement activity in the Silwan neighbourhood, outside the old city in Jerusalem hold a skull and bones flag.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Four members of a West Bank criminal gang have been arrested and charged with digging up bodies and selling the skulls for use in manufacturing drugs like heroin and cocaine. Capt. “M”, a Palestinian police officer speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the case, explained to The Media Line that the body parts, which can bring as much as $4,000 each, are often ground up and used to add to the weight of drugs sold on the street or according to some, can be snorted on their own.
“They take the human skulls and they crush it to make a powder, then mix it with heroin or cocaine to make the amount bigger to charge more money.” The practice is rife in Latin America.
If the skull powder is white, the dealers will add the powder to cocaine and if the skull powder is darker, it is added to heroin, the officer said.
“[Drug dealers] want to dilute the drug,” Professor Francesca Levi-Schaffer of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “Sometimes they use substances that can cause damage. If you inject talc – a toxic mineral -- for example, one can die immediately. Human bones and skull are absolutely not toxic.”
According to Majed Mohammad Mustafa A’loosh, the director of the Al-Sadiq Al-Taieb Association for the Social Awareness of the Dangerous Outcomes of Drug Abuse and Alcohol Use, based in Ramallah, sniffing a ground up skull can also get a user high.
“It happened before, during the war, when the Iraqi government was bombing Israel and we were all under siege,” A’loosh told The Media Line. “So, those people who wanted heroin dug up the bodies and tried to smash the heads and sniffed them.”
Originally used as a painkiller, heroin, also known as diamorphine, is a highly addictive opiate that users often inject. The drug is made from poppy plants and is mass produced in Afghanistan and is typically transported through Iraq and Pakistan. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), most heroin is seized in the Middle East as well as in South West Asia.
Cocaine, on the other hand, is a stimulant that is derived from the coca plant in South America. Like heroin, manufacturers often mix in other compounds to dilute the drug in order to increase profits.
According to A’loosh, with roughly 22,000 addicts and almost three times as many users in the West Bank alone, drug use and smuggling has been on the rise over the past ten years. The drugs, like heroin, cocaine, and even a new street drug similar to marijuana known as “nice guy,” often enters the West Bank from Lebanon and Egypt.
“Drug use has spread in a big way,” A’loosh told The Media Line. “Before it was just in Jerusalem and Ramallah but now it has spread all over because the whole situation in the West Bank is frustrating. There is no hope (for Palestinians).”
According to A’loosh, out of 20 Palestinians, you will likely find 17 doing “nice guy.”
The Gaza Strip, the coastal enclave ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement, is known for having an underground network of tunnels connecting it to Israel and Egypt, through which drugs like tramadol, a synthetic pain killer similar to morphine, are smuggled. Yet, Hamas spokesman Ahmed Yousef dismissed the effect of drug use, telling The Media Line that, “I do not see that drug use is a big issue here in Gaza.”
The West Bank, which is comprised by land that Israel conquered during the 1967 Mideast war and is claimed by the Palestinians for their future state, is divided into three separate areas pursuant to the 1993 Oslo Accords: Area “A”, under full Palestinian security and political control; area “B” under Israeli military and Palestinian civil control; and Area C, which constitutes about 60% of the land, is under full Israeli military and administrative control. Jericho is in Area A and Hebron is in Area C.
The skull smuggling gang, whose members range from between 20 and 35 years of age and hail from Jericho and Hebron, has been unearthing these skulls and sending them across the 1949 Armistice border, also known as the Green Line, which is the demarcation line separating the West Bank and Israel. The Palestinian police officers have been working with the Israeli police force to identify any other suspects.
“We work on an operational level with the Palestinian police,” Mickey Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israel Police told The Media Line. “The issues we deal with are trafficking issues and drug issues.”
The Palestinian police force believes the skulls were en route to an accomplice in Jordan.