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Weed: Israel and Palestine

Israeli Weed in Three Cities

Israeli Weed

Tel Aviv-Yafo

Photo of the coastal skyline of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel

SMASH.

Everyone starts at the sound of glass breaking. It’s one of the few times I see the deep trauma and fear lurking just below the surface in all who call Israel and/or Palestine home.

mural from Tel Aviv bus station
Street art of stressed face from Tel Aviv Bus Station

A sketchy deadbeat angrily saunters away from the outdoor patio. There’s a panic as the cafe workers try to figure out what happened. Some of the patrons are in shock. A few startled, but continue their meals and conversations. Others leave. One of the women gets to her feet and starts shouting and gesturing at the waitstaff, one of whom is cleaning up the shattered glass from a broken pitcher. I eye my table partner, knowing that she has PTSD and heart problems. She looks over, listening to the Hebrew, and calmly translates the scene for me.

Even though there’s a language barrier I usually would be up on my surroundings, but now: I need the explanation. The Israeli weed is throbbing into me deeper with every moment. It’s powerful, relentless, and fractally unfolding into a broadly full-spectrum high. It’s fresh, perfectly cured, Israeli medical marijuana.

Tel Aviv Street Art

Israeli medical cannabis is not to be underestimated. Israeli weed in general is to be respected.

My new friend tells me that the dude simply picked up a full pitcher of water and threw it at the woman’s head. He missed. But the woman is incensed that they are letting people in the cafe who are stoned. I wonder if she means us, though I know that Israeli weed is not to blame. She shoots us dirty looks in between pointing out shards of glass to the staff. After all, we just smoked a joint. My friend is very good friends with the cafe owners and remains unperturbed. The scene settles.

“Something like that happens a couple times a week.” she says. “People are scared. And hurting. Some people just don’t have enough. There are always haves and have nots.”

Tel Aviv homeless in Tel Aviv person picking through trash in Tel Aviv

I nod. I sit drinking a soy mocha in a cafe with a contact of a friend in the high level, legal cannabis and psychedelics scene. He has hooked me up with this contact mainly to get me high. She is in her seventies, and is a medical marijuana patient and activist. 

A moment ago, the energy was different:

She rolls a joint full of Israeli weed and lights it.

Tel Aviv Street Art

“You can smoke here?” I say, incredulous. 

“Sure.” She shrugs, looking around. I see in her eyes that it’s not okay, but that the chances of anyone fucking with Bubbala are nil.

I know that it is not legal. Moments ago she pressed a few buds and some papers in a little baggie into my hand to use for the rest of my weekend in Tel Aviv, a sweet gesture to me as a fellow stoner, before even knowing that I am a fellow Jew. Oh the associations we associate around.

Tel Aviv strikes me as a rough city. So far I’ve seen people smoking both weed and crack openly on the street. The street art is amazing, as it is in rough cities. 

Mural on a synagogue in Tel Aviv

I walk through the Sudanese neighborhood and am astonished by the racial segregation. I can’t wrap my head around the demography. The US is 2% Jewish. Tel Aviv is more than 95% Jewish.

It comes up.

“You’re Jewish?” her face beams.

“Yes.” I say, even though that question makes me bristle. I never quite know what to say. I wasn’t raised in the faith but my blood shows me as a thoroughbred. The religious details are unfamiliar but the lineage, traits and relationships are painfully intimate.

We talk about Israeli weed and the medical marijuana scene, which is strict and unforgiving. The vast majority of Israelis who have prescriptions have them for mental health. 

Trauma. 

Mural of a scary scene, axe murder

Through my eyes Israel has a thriving cannabis scene, but through my stoner buddy’s eyes, they are behind. It’s Israel, after all, it should be doing better. The Jewish guilt and striving for excellence shows up in her criticisms.

She asks me if I want food, but I decline. There is no Israeli cuisine, and the food in Tel Aviv strikes me as extravagant and laden with calories and food-borne sedatives. It’s food for trauma and stress, not that it makes these conditions better in the long run. I joke that everything comes with a cherry on top of whipped cream on top of ice cream on top.

Jerusalem donuts
Jerusalem halvah
Jerusalem candy

Somehow the occupation of Palestine comes up. This is after hearing Bubby’s story – her parents died in Auschwitz, a survivor aunt fled with her from Poland to Israel.

She grew up in fear, trying to piece together a family that had been ravaged.

I see that fear in her eyes when we talk of the rapid growth of Israel causing them to employ land reclamation and build out new country from the edges of the land into the Mediterranean sea, away from the mini-continent of Arabs, most of whom they think would push them off further if they could, and many of whom actually would.

Photo of the Mediterranean as seen from Israel and Palestine

And that fear turns to sadness and despair when we discuss the injustice of the settlements in Israel and Palestine.

“Of course it’s wrong. It’s all wrong. It never should have happened. I don’t know what people are thinking, I don’t know why it’s still happening. If I could I would make them give it all back. There’s just one thing though, Zoe,” and she grips my arm while looking into my eyes, this frail, frightened, persecuted, sweet, old Jewish stoner granny, and says:

“Where would we go?”

Refugee Street Art Tel Aviv

Jerusalem

View of rooftops of Jerusalem rooftops , Israel and Palestine

It’s pouring rain most of the time I’m in Jerusalem, so I stay inside smoking my host’s Israeli weed from my host’s clean glass bong, eating the chocolate chip cookies he baked himself, and running between raindrops to the neighboring sabich joint that is the best food I eat in Israel and Palestine and so I eat every single meal in Jerusalem from their delicious kitchen. 

Jerusalem sabih or Jerusalem sabich, delicious Israeli food

My host lives in a modern high rise, in a nondescript, newish, well-applianced, black, white and grey one bedroom that could be anywhere in the world.

It seems odd to be inside on the elephant grey couch getting high on a rainy day in one of the most controversial and historically important cities in the world. Then again, it seems odd in general to live there. To go about one’s life developing apps or being a child soldier or cooking sabich a stone’s throw from the epicenter of modern religious warfare.

Jewish soldier, Jerusalem soldier, Israel and Palestine

My host might as well my cousin. Or even worse a brother.

We finish each other’s sentences in the same cadence. He is younger than I am, whip-smart, charming, perceptive as can be, and has too many tics to be attractive. He’s laid back and treats his life in Jerusalem as a matter of course. Those tics are the anxiety of his ancestors finding their way into his DNA.

He has been to Burning Man, and has heard of my former fame there. It doesn’t surprise me, I have met many Israelis at Burning Man. He tells me a cute playa story about having someone temporarily tattoo “Cougar Bait” on him, and I consider fucking him, briefly, but don’t. We have so much in common.

Tel Aviv street art featuring two squirrels

Our ancestors are from the same place. Our great-grandparents led the same lifestyles. Then came the Pogroms. And the Shoah. 

And his grandparents went one way, while mine went another. We are descended from survivors, our lineage is hyperculled. We might as well be each other, but we are not. He was born in this city spanning Israel and Palestine that seems so freaking weird to me.

He gets medical Israeli weed illegally from a friend when he can. Currently he doesn’t have that, and says that what he gets in its stead is not quite as good. It’s still top grade, fresh, green, cured expertly, full of nuanced citrusy terpenes.

I would expect nothing less. After all, US cannabis research was performed in Israel for more than half a century. Raphael Mechoulam, the scientist who first fully elucidated the structure of THC, is Israeli.

I visit the Old City in a brief respite from the rain. It feels like Disneyland or a Hollywood set to me.

tourist trinket shop in Jersualem, Israel and Palestine

Some combination of seeing copies in so many places in the world in so many ways (I visited Tierra Santa, the Jerusalem themed theme park in Buenos Aires, long before I visited the city of Jerusalem), and the real city being continually restored to look according to some fictional collection of moments distilled into an era in religious history.

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem, Israel and Palestine
Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, Israel and Palestine

After this outing, my host explains the Status Quo to me, the agreement between the Christians, Jews, and Arabs that governs who gets what land and what structures for how much time and when. It’s mind-boggling in its complexity. It’s also so very old, what blows my mind most is that no one has wanted to rock the boat enough to change it in 250 years, and then 150 years ago they ruled like “yeah, no, you can’t change it. Ever. That’s why it’s called the Status Quo.”

Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, Israel and Palestine

Being Jews, we delight in the lightning fast exchange of complex ideas, and it’s jokes and riffs on this and other religious and geopolitical play. Eventually the exchange of the bong keeps pace with the exchange of our conversation and the topics devolve a bit simpler.

Tel Aviv Mural

“So. I’ll give you fahrenheit, I get it, it has more numbers and you think it’s a better system of ambient temperature… but the imperial system? You’ve got to be kidding me.”

I make an attempt at saying that I don’t accept the European colonialism that is the Metric system, until he points out that the Imperial system wasn’t invented in the USA, either. He starts going into the numbers, rapidly. The man programs autonomous vehicles for a living.

“You’re going to lose me with numbers. My father’s a mathematician. It skips a generation.”

He laughs at this, one of my oldest jokes that has gotten me out of countless math problems.

“I know, however, that I’ve smoked more than half of your weed.” I say, looking at the baggie of Israeli weed and trying to distract him from what is a tired subject for a world traveler.

“It’s okay, I’ll get medical next week. I’m glad you like it. So as I was saying…” and he launches back into the standard set of valid criticisms of the US system of measurements, including exploded spaceships and partners in crime like Liberia and Myanmar. 

Full building street art in Tel Aviv, Israel

I nod at everything he’s saying, his brutal takedown of a system of measurement that is still more natural to me to operate within than any other, and then when he finally runs into a pause to take a bong hit, I wait until he’s packed and has his mouth on it before saying:

“Yeah. It’s true. Your Israeli systems of measurement are FAR superior. So… tell me about your calendar?”

He chokes on the smoke and the gotcha.

Street art about families split across Israel and the US, bearing the caption "We were all once refugees"

Ramallah

View of Ramallah, Palestine

“So where did you get the weed?” I ask.

“It’s Israeli weed.” my American host answers. “The Palestinian stuff is shitty, so, most people just get it from the other side.”

“Even the hash?”

“If they have good hash, they sure as shit aren’t sharing it with this American.” he says.

I laugh, knowingly. After my time in Israel, it’s good to be in the group of “Americans” rather than in the group of “Jews”. Maybe also slightly preferable to be seen that way here in Palestine. My host isn’t Jewish, and I don’t occur that way to most people. We’re just a couple of Americans hanging out.

It’s like finding an oasis in the desert. Running into Americans abroad tends to be one of two experiences. It’s either excruciatingly mortifying and I want to disappear from the planet’s surface when faced with an example of my own countryfolk, or it’s like having some deep need filled I didn’t realize I had. 

Photo of a bottle of Arak from Ramallah, Palestine

In this case, dude is a stoner and likes good music, and we spend a few days getting high, drinking Arak, listening to tunes, and tooling around Ramallah. 

Ramallah, Palestine

The weed is okay. It doesn’t have a strain name, and looks pretty standard. It’s a little less fresh than the Israeli weed I had in Jerusalem, but certainly still impressive for most places, even if not Israel and Palestine.

My host points out the Stars and Bucks, a Palestinian ripoff, and we have a good laugh followed by a moment of silence for all our country’s sanctions and the brutal way they impact global livelihood. Then he shows me a local art collective that makes graphics of the Palestinian city names that existed before 1948 in Kufic script. I see more of the same kind of art in Diwalic script as well. 

The map itself shows a clearly developed and vibrant country in 1948. It leaves no doubt that the country is and was occupied. It hangs on the wall in my host’s digs.

1948 Map of Palestine

His place is large and has creaky wooden floors and beautiful French windows leading out to a view of one of the many valleys in Ramallah. It reminds me of an artist’s loft. 

View at sunset in Ramallah, Palestine

The internet is terrible though, it’s painfully slow, and I see clearly that Palestinians would be challenged as digital nomads.

I barely manage to make it through the monthly company meeting. This happens to be one where my very progressive boss is showing her religious pilgrimage to Israel. What are the odds?

She begins to show photos from Bethlehem. I bristle, as this is still under the guise of showing photos from her trip to Israel only, not Israel and Palestine. I planned a trip including both Israel and Palestine, but have only had time to see one city in the West Bank, and chose Ramallah because I wanted to see how people live, not some tour of religious history.

Street in downtown Ramallah, Palestine

Then she shows a photo of Stars and Bucks in Bethlehem.

“See, they even have Starbucks in Israel!” she quips. My stomach flips at the tone deaf nature of the comment, especially as I am currently struggling to tune into this bullshit through Israeli-throttled internet while in Palestine. 

No matter the complexity I’ll assign to the issue, one thing is certain in my take: I do view them as two separate countries. They fucking are.

Palestinian shepherds on the street in Ramallah

I ask my host how he handles the difficulties of living in an occupied territory. 

“I mean, we’re American, right? Probably if we’re looking at influence we commit the most atrocities, warfare, regime change, genocide, occupation, modern colonialism…” I’m nodding. He’s absolutely right. 

“Yeah, but these are JEWS.” I quip. “No, you’re right. We’re just used to our own drama. Can’t see the forest for the trees. Or the water in the fishbowl. Or… something about a cave… Plato… yeah. I’m high.” 

“Me too.” he agrees. He’s the only non-traumatized person I meet in Israel and Palestine.

Jersualem street art of see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil monkeys

I offer to take out the trash, since we’ve filled it as stoners do.

“Hey what’s the deal with the trash anyway?” I ask, noticing that there’s a pile outside and that I’ve seen a few piles in a few places. “Do they pick it up? Is there a strike?

“It’s more of an ongoing problem. Not sure really, but I know it’s compounded by the fact that every time Israel has something they don’t want to pay to dispose of they dump it over the fence.”

Photo of trash pile from Israel and Palestine
I also go out alone, but indeed no Palestinian wants to share their hash with me, though I do have some great conversations over tea, coffee, and shisha.
Shop window full of narghile and hookahs

And even margaritas…

Photo of a fancy margarita

Ramallah is not a rough city compared to any I’ve been to on the other side of the Green Line, though not particularly noteworthy, especially after having been to most of the Middle East. I’m struck immediately by the lack of beggars as compared to Israel. Tithing is a part of Islamic culture. The street art isn’t nearly as good, though.

Mural of Yasser Arafat and the Dome of the Rock

It’s easy to get high and walk around as a foreigner. I do sometimes have moments of paranoia where I wonder if they can tell that I’m Jewish, and others where I wonder how in the Palestinian concept being American compares to being Jewish and how these compare to being Israeli

I ask these questions to the Palestinian friends I meet and get wildly different answers. Seems there is no one Palestinian concept, at least not outside of the Yasser Arafat Museum and Mausoleum.

Yasser Arafat Museum and Mausoleum

No matter who I talk to about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it all amounts to the same: it sucks. It’s a fucking atrocity. No one likes it. It’s a damn shame. How to take a side in something that shouldn’t exist at all?

Surrealist street art from Tel Aviv of someone measuring a plug

I am stupid attracted to Palestinian men and make a mental note to return.

I’m embarrassed that the bulk of my interaction with them is as servants. They cook delicious meals for me, sell me Arak – and – drive me over the Israeli border and back.

Angel street art mural from Tel Aviv Bus Station

My host’s girlfriend has a job that entitles her to a driver and diplomatic plates. We cross both directions driven by a hot Palestinian man, without stopping at the checkpoint. 

The Green Line is formidable. It’s a wall separating Israel and Palestine, topped with barbed wire that gives way into fences in parts. There are armed soldiers of all kinds surrounding it, not that this isn’t normal in the rest of Israel and Palestine as well, but here there is no mistaking that you have reached a border wall.

The Green Line, the border wall between Israel and Palestine

It is a bizarre reality that I am allowed to cross unimpeded and with plenty of Israeli weed, when almost all Palestinians are prevented from crossing the border into Israel, and almost all Israelis are prevented from crossing the border into Palestine. 

Who among them gets to live on both sides is too complex for me to understand.

Ramallah mural captioned "Their artillery can't kill our roots!"

Aftermath

A week after I am in Israel and Palestine, they trade missiles. Palestine strikes first. Neither hit anything important. I contact my friends of many nationalities on both sides to check their welfare, and find all of them processing anxiety into trauma.

Good weed, though.


Another story of cannabis in the Middle East.


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2 replies on “Weed: Israel and Palestine”

Your pictures are beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing. There’s so much street art, I never would have guessed! Interesting that the medical marijuana is mostly for mental health there. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Almost all the street art photos were taken in Tel Aviv, it’s a real center globally for artists. I didn’t know that either before I went! There are neighborhoods that are covered in it, and one of them is a tourist attraction. The photos here are largely from the Tel Aviv bus station (one of them), which is NOT a tourist destination, and I would not recommend anyone go there at all ever for any reason. Danger.

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