A military court in Gaza City sentenced two men to death on Sunday after they were found guilty of alleged drug dealing.
It reportedly marked the first time that the death penalty was used in Gaza for a drug-related offense, though a number of Palestinians have been sentenced to death in recent months after being found guilty of collaborating with Israel or of murder.
In a press conference in Gaza City, spokesman of the Hamas-run Ministry of Interior Iyad al-Buzm said that the first “convict” was sentenced to death by firing squad, and the second by hanging.
The first man, an officer in the Palestinian Authority’s preventive security service, was allegedly caught near the southern border of the Gaza Strip in possession of 40 boxes of the synthetic opiate Tramadol — known as Tramal in Gaza — containing some 3,985 pills, according to al-Buzm.
Al-Buzm described the second man as a “fugitive on the run,” who was allegedly caught with a bag containing “a large quantity” of Tramadol, cannabis, and opium that was purchased near the southern border with Egypt.
Although illegal without a prescription in some regions, Tramadol is relatively easy to obtain in Gaza, either with fake prescriptions from pharmacies or on the black market. Thousands of boxes of Tramadol make their way to Gazans through smuggling tunnels along the Egyptian border, with reports of Hamas cracking down on the drug amid high rates of addiction in the small Palestinian territory.
Times of Israel newspaper reported that Gaza’s Interior Ministry said 400,000 Tramadol pills had been seized in the besieged coastal enclave since the beginning of the year, as well as 1,250 packages of hashish, while authorities have seized drugs with a street value of around $1 million over the past few months.
The ministry reportedly blamed Israel for the epidemic, saying it authorities were working to protect “Palestinian society from various dangers through which the Israeli occupation and the enemies of our people target (Palestinian) society.”
What Israel “failed to achieve through war and siege, it will not succeed to do through spreading drugs,” the statement said.
“Anyone who deals drugs, his crime is no less than those who spy for the (Israeli) occupation; their goal is the same: to destroy Palestinian society,” it added.
Several Palestinians have been executed in Gaza after Hamas-affiliated members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza approved the enforcement of death sentences last year.
Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced at the time that 13 Palestinians had been sentenced to death by Gaza courts and would be executed as soon as possible.
Under Palestinian law, willful, premeditated murder and treason as well as collaboration with the enemy — usually Israel — are punishable by death. However, all death sentences must be ratified by the Palestinian president before they can be carried out.
Despite this, the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza has carried out executions periodically without receiving approval from President Mahmoud Abbas since 2010.
It remained unclear whether or not the death penalty had been used for drug-related offenses before Sunday’s decision.
After a Gaza court sentenced a Palestinian man to death earlier this month for the premeditated murder of his wife, the European Union Representative and the EU Heads of Mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah condemned the sentence and reiterated their “firm opposition under all circumstances to the use of capital punishment.”
“The de facto authorities in Gaza must refrain from carrying out any executions of prisoners and comply with the moratorium on executions put in place by the Palestinian Authority, pending abolition of the death penalty in line with the global trend,” the statement said.