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In the 11 months since Israeli citizens were first arrested overseas for khat-smuggling, the number has reached 67 with no end in sight, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Ziv Shalvi, an official at the Foreign Ministry Department of Israelis Abroad Consular Affairs Division, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that an arrest was likely made on Thursday in Barcelona, and that three more Israelis were arrested in Paris on Sunday, on the eve of Sukkot.

Ali Abdi, 14, and his friend Abdulahi Yaroow, 13, chew khat in Mogadishu August 10, 2014. Grown on plantations in the highlands of Kenya and Ethiopia, tonnes of khat, or qat, dubbed “the flower of paradise” by its users, are flown daily into Mogadishu airport, to be distributed from there in convoys. (photo credit: REUTERS/FEISAL OMAR)

Shalvi added that there were expectations that around another 20 female, adolescent smugglers were on the way in the near future, and that the actual number of smugglers to date could easily be over 100.

Israelis are currently serving prison time in France, Sweden, Spain, Ireland and Turkey.

Those arrested were caught with tens of kilograms of the drug indigenous to the Yemeni region, with one being caught with nine suitcases full.

One layer of the complex phenomenon which has confused Israelis is that khat is not illegal in Israel, but it is illegal in most European countries.

Another layer, Shalvi told the Post, is that those being caught could be viewed as being hoodwinked, as they are mostly young adolescents from vulnerable sectors of society.

He said that those whom the hardened plant-handlers are soliciting tend to be from poor backgrounds and often include Ethiopians, ultra-Orthodox youth and people cut off from their families due to rebelling against their families’ religious observance level.

Shalvi said that some, which are about 20 years old on average, even have mental problems, such as schizophrenia.

Generally, the handlers appear to tell the smugglers that khat is legal in Israel and only a small issue in other countries.

They tell their smugglers that they will not get caught and pay them thousands of shekels, including paying for them to take an out-of-the-country holiday.

The naïve smugglers generally have no idea about the level of risk they are getting themselves into, let alone that they could face up to 10 years in prison in some countries (though detentions times might also be closer to 30-60 days.)

Shalvi and his department of only three are doing their best to keep track of all the arrested Israelis, to preserve their procedural rights and ensure they have access to a lawyer and, if necessary, kosher food. They also seek to promote awareness of the issue with the hope of convincing future young, easily-manipulated potential offender-victims to stay out of the business.

Maybe the most frustrating aspect of the issue is that Shalvi and others know exactly who is fooling and manipulating the vulnerable smugglers, but feel powerless to stop them.

He said that when the victim’s families turn to the police, authorities apologize that Israeli law binds their hands since khat is legal in Israel.

It appears that the Knesset may need to be pass a new law empowering the police to charge someone who is inciting others to violate another country’s laws, such as smuggling khat, even if the act would not be an offense in Israel.

There does not seem to be an appetite for making khat illegal in Israel, since it has deep cultural ties and support within the Yemenite-Israeli community and is not considered a dangerous drug.

Even without a new law, there are hopes that the police might be able to end the phenomenon by digging deeper into the masterminds of the scheme in order to find and arrest them for other unrelated offenses, such as tax fraud.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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