The Dawn of Imperial and International Control: The (Under)world of Hashish Consumers in Interwar Palestine

By Haggai Ram
Submitted to Session P4491 (Leisure and its Discontents: Contesting Public Practices and Popular Spaces, 2016 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
I explore the (under)world of hashish consumers in Palestine in the interwar years. This world was affected by the expansion, during the interwar years, of international and British imperial efforts to prohibit, control and regulate the trade and use of hashish. As elsewhere, the newfound policy of control created in Palestine a rupture with earlier modes of hashish consumption and generated myriad images of criminality. By drawing on archival sources, memoirs, works of fiction and the press, I discuss these two aspects of control in Palestine. First I demonstrate the extent to which hashish consumers, Palestinians and labor immigrants from neighboring Arab countries, had to conduct their mind-altering affairs more discreetly than ever before. The kinds of subterfuge resorted to by these consumers to evade persecution is contrasted with reports about hashish consumption in the late Ottoman Levant, which was comparatively open-ended. I then provide a vista of the colonial knowledge about hashish consumption that informed Mandatory enforcement agencies and was essential for the criminalization of local consumers. This knowledge traveled to Palestine from India and Egypt, where the British had long contended with (and largely misunderstood) cannabis-oriented cultures. Sensationalized images of this knowledge were instrumental in the meaning-making activity of the burgeoning Zionist community, whose objective was to exclude Palestinians and prevent the assimilation of supposedly alien-cum-Oriental habits and practices. Jews who joined Arabs in hashish trafficking operations from Lebanon/Syria, across Palestine, to Egypt, and/or in sociable affairs in which hashish was taken, were said to have transgressed the moral boundaries of the Zionist movement.