Israel boards another aid vessel

Have you ever been arrested? I have - in 1993 for possession of a controlled class B substance, namely about 1/32 of an ounce of cannabis resin, not too long after my eighteenth birthday which was a stroke of luck as it meant my mum never found out. I'd just left college and, having read Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London a few months previously which had affected me in the way that Orwell tends to affect left-wing teenagers, rather than doing the old "going to India to find myself" routine I decided I'd have a go at being a tramp (by which, I should point out for the benefit of our dear American readers, I mean a travelling itinerant or hobo, not a lady of questionable morals). As such I travelled the highways and byways of England for a while, mostly on foot with a rucksack full of army surplus clothing and an assortment of bits and pieces collected along the way but also by hitch-hiking when it rained or the pain from my blisters became sufficiently bad as to supercede my middle class teenage zealotry.

A far bigger bit of cannabis resin than I got caught with.

'Twas on such a day that I found myself in one of those Midlands towns (I'd read The Road to Wigan Pier too, and was heading thataway to take a look - also, like many upon hearing that Wigan has a pier, I had assumed it to be a seaside resort and seaside resorts are good places for those whose diet depends on the generosity of others, assuming one can get to discarded chips before the seagulls do) that has little left since the demise of local industry, having been dropped there the day previously by a travelling businessman of some description who had almost killed us both on a number of occasions whilst driving up the A1 through several attempts to interface his Peugeot 205 with thundering juggernauts. I'd pitched my tent in a coppice and it then proceeded to bucket it down all night, so I had a fairly miserable night sheltering under leaky canvas eating the packet of rapidly-hardening doughnuts I had pilfered from the bins round the back of a Kwik-Save shop, conceding that perhaps those college comrades who had opted for three months in Goa and a weekly allowance from Daddy had known what they were about after all.

Next morning, despite the rain having cleared up and the sun being in the sky, the town was nevertheless pervaded by greyness, the same greyness that comes from mass unemployment and despair and foretells galloping numbers of heroin addicts and race riots to come. So, I decided to get my self out of their as sharply as possible and head for the countryside, which is a far better place to be a tramp if one knows how to catch a rabbit (yes, I know - I didn't keep kosher in those days) and what hedge garlic looks like, and readied my rucksack and thumb for more hitch-hiking.

I stood on the roadside for around half an hour when a Mini Metro in police livery drew up. "Surely not," I thought, "is he going to give me a lift?" He was not.

The car contained two coppers and one, who seemed not much older than myself, stepped out of his car and we moved a short way up the grassy bank running along the side of the road. "There's nothing to worry about, mate," he said, "we're just having a look at who's out and about in the area. Do you have anything on you that you shouldn't have, at all?"

"Erm, not really," I replied, as you do, then thinking at least some degree of honesty might work in my favour. So I told him that there was a large sheath knife in the canvas bag that I used to carry stuff such as tobacco that I might need without the hassle of opening my rucksack.

"Let's have a look at it," he instructed. I opened my bag to retrieve the knife, but his hands were inside it the moment I unfastened the buckle. He ignored the knife completely and instead brought out the grey plastic box within which I kept tobacco, cigarette papers and - as he had correctly guessed - cannabis. He opened the box and rummaged through the contents before placing it on the ground. Next he took out the knife and had a good look at that - with a blade six inches long, it was most certainly enough to earn me a conviction for carrying an offensive weapon. Had he missed the cannabis, I wondered, or perhaps decided that since it was such a small amount arresting me for it wasn't worth his time? I then told him about the hatchet and the high-powered hunting catapult in my rucksack, so he brought those out too along with a small plastic jar containing a herbal substance - this, however, was merely dried tansy, a common flower which insects absolutely loathe and which I had been using to keep flies out of the tent by hanging it in the doorway. I told him this and he believed me.

"Right," he said, "I am arresting you for possession of a controlled substance..." If you've ever watched The Bill you already know the rest of the spiel. I expected to be handcuffed at this point, but I was not - why? The only reason I could think of was, other than my original reluctance to admit that I had some cannabis, I had been straight-forward, honest and co-operative. I then realised that he too had been perfectly polite towards me with none of the aggressiveness that police tend to show towards unwashed hippy teenagers in films. The arresting officer was sitting in the front passenger's seat holding my knife and hatchet, turning them over in his hands. "Did we ever recover the blade and axe used in the Harrison murders?" he asked his colleague. "Shit," I thought, really not wanting to be arrested on suspicion of murder too - but he turned round to look at me with an enormous grin on his face. We traded quips for the remainder of the journey to the police station and, by the time we got there, I realised that he was the sort of man with whom I'd very happily go for a pint.

At the station, I was asked to sit on a plastic bench right next to the open front doors - at no time was I put in a cell. The arresting officer spoke to the desk sergeant and I heard him report why I had been arrested, also mentioning that I'd given them no trouble and it ought to be a routine matter. He then returned to me and began fiddling with the catapult, calling over to the desk sergeant to come and have a look. "This'd be bloody handy when you're chasing a mugger, eh?" he said, grinning and pulling back the latex bands for a dry shot. Then - and I swear to you this is not a lie, the three of us went out into the station carpark for ten minutes with the catapult and ball bearing ammunition and I showed them how to aim it, firing at a splodge of white paint on a wall.

Following this, I was taken back into the station and led to an interview room where he asked me a few questions - name, address (which I gave as no fixed abode), where I'd been, where I was going and what I doing and I was entirely truthful. He then said, "I suppose you're not going to tell us who sold you the cannabis, right?"

"Nope," I told him, because although coppers were sometimes known to unarrest people and release them without charge in return for information of this kind I was brought up much better than that. Thus I got a caution, which is basically a telling-off and being made to promise you won't be naughty that will be mentioned and used against you should you be arrested for any other offences during the next three years. My belongings were returned to me and I was invited to check through them to make sure nothing was missing. I did so, and told them that something was indeed missing - 1/32 of an ounce of cannabis and could I have it back please? This also got a laugh.

I was then allowed to leave, having been in custody for no more than an hour, furnished by the desk sergeant with the valuable tip that if I returned to the place where I had been attempting to get a lift I'd probably be there for the next few days as it was notorious for speeding and an accident blackspot, so police cars patrolled it constantly and drivers would be unlikely to stop. He suggested instead that I try a smaller road which joined the A1 some miles out of town and was the preferred route for locals. I did so, getting a lift almost immediately as far as Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire, the location of three menhirs known as The Devil's Arrows which I had been wanting to have a look at and where I met a man who ate worm curry (but that's another story altogether). I never did get to Wigan, but from what I've since heard about the place I didn't miss much.

Anyway, I learned a valuable lesson that day. Not that smoking cannabis is wrong - I continued smoking it regularly until my early 30s and still remain unconvinced that its illegality is either necessary or wise, but that when one is forced to deal with the police, co-operation and honesty will go a long way to ensuring the process is as painless, quick and easy as possible. Like most cannabis users I was to have many, many more encounters with Her Maj's Constabulary over the years but I have never again been arrested - unlike my dope-smoking friends who, on the whole, have been arrested several times and in some cases have received financial and/or custodial punishment. There have been times when the car we were travelling in has been pulled over and although I have never admitted to being in possession of cannabis without being prompted to do so - that would be plain idiocy - when asked if I have anything I shouldn't have I have followed a policy of telling them what I have, how much of it and where it is. On one occasion, a friend named Chris and I were stopped and asked. I confessed immediately that I had a quarter of an ounce of resin in my pocket and handed it over. Chris, meanwhile, denied having anything naughty about his person and became verbally aggressive. A police van was called to the scene and in the back I was asked to turn out my pockets and asked if I had ever been in trouble with the police before - I replied that yes I had, and told them all about the caution resulting from the incident above despite it having taken place six or seven years previously and for this reason there being no requirement for me to mention it. Chris, meanwhile, was subjected to a full strip search. When they found approximately 1/16th of an ounce in his pocket, a quarter of the amount I had, he was arrested and remained in a cell overnight; whereas I was informed that I was free to go.

It's simple, really. If a copper asks you something, tell the truth. If he or she tells you do something, do it. Do not try to make life difficult for them, because they have pepper spray, superior numbers and the law on their side which, all in all, means that they can make life a very great deal more difficult for you.

"OK Acid Rabbi my old matey," you may be thinking, "You've been waffling on for 1,955 words now. Are you actually going anywhere with this?" Unless, that is, you've become bored; in which case you've probably wandered off to some other part of the Internet and are now laughing at photographs of cats with funny captions.

The Rachel Corrie in dock.

Well, yes I am - but what with all those spliffs I used to smoke it might take me a few minutes with this dodgy old hard drive I call a memory to remember precisely what my track was before I can get back on it. Oh yes - I know - same thing I've been banging on about all week: Israel, Gaza and the so-called aid flotilla. As we all know, the Rachel Corrie - a ship which had intended to set sail along with the Mavi Marmara which was boarded by the Israeli Defense Forces on Monday, causing those on board to violently attack the commandos and get shot at as a result, was unable to do so due to technical difficulties but it eventually set sail and, this morning, approached the exclusion zone established in the waters around Gaza by Israel to prevent the smuggling of arms and explosives as used in the construction of the 8,600 Qassam rockets that Hamas has fired into Israel, often targeting civilian areas. According to flotilla organisers the Free Gaza Movement, the ship has a non-working radio - as a result of Israeli sabotage, claim conspiracy theorists and the terminally, ridiculously paranoid - which rather forces one to wonder why it wasn't fitted with new one while those technical problems were being sorted out; meaning that it has been impossible for the Free Gaza Movement to contact those aboard and let them know that Israel remained resolute in its understandable unwillingness to allow it to dock in Gaza without first being checked for banned items. However, there can be no doubt that they will have been aware of this - the ship set out after Monday on the 2nd of June and, according to the organisers, has been tailed by three Israeli naval vessels. As was the case with the Mavi Marmara and the other five vessels making up the flotilla, Israel says it made three requests that the ship changed course for an Israeli port where it could dock and unload, allowing the cargo to be checked before being transported to Gaza for distribution through Israel's existing channels which are used to deliver 15,000 tons of aid weekly, stating that if it did not change course they would board it and steer it towards the port of Ashdod themselves.

A Qassam rocket fired by Hamas, displayed in Sderot town hall with photographs of people killed by similar devices.

"We have contacted the boat and we've asked them politely to change course to Ashdod port. If they choose to do so, we promise them we won't board the ship," Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Liebovich of the Israeli Navy said - no idle promise this, either, because she said it to the BBC. You don't say something like this to the world's largest broadcaster if you don't intend to keep your promise - especially if, as has for once happened with Israel in the wake of Monday's events, the world is slowly beginning to realise that they might have been a bit hasty in their original condemnation of your actions - because it's going to be transmitted all over the Earth and people will hold you to it.

As was the case with the Mavi Marmara, those requests were ignored and the Rachel Corrie continued sailing towards the exclusion zone - which can only be interpreted as deliberate provocation on the part of those aboard. And, as was also the case with the Mavi Marmara, the IDF were forced to board the vessel. However, unlike the Mavi Marmara, the peace protestors chose not to viciously attack the commandos, which meant that the soldiers were not forced to draw and use their sidearms in an effort to protect themselves. Because of their decision to remain peaceful and comply, the vessel is now on its way to Ashdod and the cargo will continue its journey to Gaza once it's been inspected.

Remember what I said about not trying to make life difficult for the police - or, in the case, the IDF? That way, they'll return the favour. Deliberate antagonise an officer and expect him or her not take any steps to make life any easier for you. Attack an officer and expect to be met with very forceful resistance. Likewise Israeli commandos: violently attack them with metal bars, knives and - according to some reports - guns and stun grenades and there's every chance they'll put down their paintball guns and use any means necessary to protect themselves. The delayed departure of the Rachel Corrie may well prove very fortunate for Israel, because this time the eyes of the world were watching very closely indeed and have seen that the IDF do not attack unarmed, non-violent civilians. When those aboard the Mavi Marmara picked up weapons and began using them they gave up their status as unarmed, non-violent civilians and the IDF were fully within their rights to protect themselves. Israel is not an aggressive, violent state but when attacked, she has the right to defend herself and her people.

Honestly though - attacking commandos. How stupid can people actually be?

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