Israeli teens go to woods for all-night drug parties Narcotics surge blamed on influence of U.S., changing attitudes


JERUSALEM -- Simon Perry didn't shave. He dressed in his grungiest clothes and wore his baseball cap backward like a hip hop boy. This was his first "mesibat acid" -- his first acid party -- and he wanted to fit in. And he did.

Perry mingled with more than 400 party-goers in a forest outside Jerusalem. And after a drug dealer sold him a tab of LSD, Perry -- a tall, athletic-looking undercover police officer -- busted him.

In wooded parks across the country, young Israelis are letting their hair down at all-night parties featuring dissonant dance music, glow-in-the-dark decorations and hits of Ecstasy and other hallucinogens for sale.

The gatherings -- also known as "rave" or "moon" parties -- have Israeli police working undercover and experts worrying about an increase in drug use among the country's teens.

"It's not an Israeli invention," said Perry, chief of the narcotics unit of the Israeli national police. "It's something we imported. Everything you have in the States yesterday, you'll have today in Europe, tomorrow in Israel."

The drug-party phenomenon began several years ago. But an organizer of one of the parties says the police have it all wrong. She said the attraction is the music.

"To make the linkage of having to take drugs to participate in such a party is wrong," said the 36-year-old woman, who asked not to be identified. "We are trying to educate the people that you can have a good time without drugs."

"We try to enjoy the music as it is. And as far as possible, to check what kind of people come there in order to prevent drug dealing."

The advent of the acid parties in Israel has coincided with a reported increase in use of drugs among young people. Between 1992 and 1995, the number of young Israelis using illegal drugs tripled, rising to 3 percent from less than 1 percent, according Israel's Anti Drug Authority's survey of 6,000 youths ages 12 to 18.

"We are very, very much on the same pattern as the States," said Rachel Bar-Hamburger, the agency's chief scientist. "A decline to 1992, and then an increase to 1995. But there is a difference. The abuse of any illegal drug substance is much less [in Israel] than in the U.S. and many other countries."

For example, about 3 percent of the Israeli 15- to 16-year-olds surveyed used hashish in 1995. That compares with about 28 percent of American 10th-graders who told one survey that they used hashish or marijuana that year.

Although the figures for hallucinogen use among Israeli youth are low, the increase concerns drug experts such as Meir Teichman of Tel Aviv University.

"What we fear is that in five to 10 years the drug culture will change," said Teichman, a clinical psychologist and co-author of the government survey. "Heroin will be replaced by the methamphetamines, which in my opinion is much more dangerous. Drug addicts in Israel still get a decent clean drug without the kind of junk you'll find in the drugs of New York, Philadelphia or Baltimore."

Teichman and others link the increase in use of these so-called designer drugs to Israel's growing affluence.

"We are not the same people as we were before," said Ya'ir Golan, a criminal defense lawyer in Jerusalem. "We are not as idealistic. Everyone is concerned about their own comfort, hTC condition. More egocentric."

The first big acid bust occurred at a Tel Aviv club, but Perry says the parties usually are held outdoors, and summer is the season.

They usually begin about midnight and continue until after dawn. Party-goers learn of the events through a telephone tree, word of mouth and leaflets. Signs directing people to the party attended by Perry and Jerusalem undercover police in June were a sort of code: "This way to the bris" -- the religious circumcision performed on infant Jewish boys and celebrated by families.

When Perry arrived at the party in HaKedoshim Park near Jerusalem, he paid the 50-shekel admission fee -- about $15. LSD tabs resembling strawberry tattoos sold for about $20. Bottled water also was for sale -- to quench the parched palate caused by LSD and similar drugs.

Symbols of the acid drug culture, such as a depiction of a sun with many rays, were painted in fluorescent colors on rocks and trees.

Young people attending the party wore tie-dyed pants and shirts and other clothes reminiscent of America's "hippie" culture. As many as 450 tickets were sold for the event, said Niso Schachan, a Jerusalem narcotics officer who planned the raid.

The organizers hired Domino, a popular acid music disc jockey from London, for the party, at a cost of about $7,000, he said. "It's not Elton John prices, but it's high enough," Schachan said. "These parties can't succeed if there's no good drugs and no good DJ."

The music, known as metal or acid rock, is dissonant. "You get high with the music," said Asher Odiz, an 18-year-old from Tiberias. The parties also are popular because they attract "a lot of girls."

The Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot recently published an account of one of the parties, an event organized by a married couple at a cost of $5,000 to $7,000.

In a telephone interview, one member of the couple defended the party-goers, saying most came to enjoy the music and to dance. "I don't deny the fact that drug dealers do take advantage of the fact," the woman said. "We would have been very happy if the police would have arrived, would have taken the drug dealers and let the party continue."

At the June party in HaKedoshim Park, Jerusalem police targeted drug dealers, used marked bills in their undercover drug buys and videotaped events. At 8 a.m., police pulled the plug on the generator and announced the raid. They arrested 28 people, all but seven for allegedly selling drugs.

In the United States, convicted drug traffickers can spend their lives in prison. In Israel, the maximum sentence for selling narcotics is 25 years. Officials' attitudes differ, too.

Don't talk to Perry about a war on drugs.

"There is no battle and no victory," said Perry. "You have to think about the drug problem as a social problem and you have to deal with it with social tools. We as police say that we cannot solve the drug problem.

"Our main role is with supply. The more drugs are available, the cheaper they are, the more people will use them. It's a simple law of supply and demand."

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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