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There is no way Saudi’s ex-intel chief truly believes ‘civil disobedience’ will liberate Palestine

October 24, 2023 at 9:07 pm

Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal bin Abdulziz al-Saud [FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images]

In his address last week at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston, Texas, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Prince Turki bin Faisal, discussed Israel’s genocidal war against Gaza in response to the Hamas-led resistance operation, Al-Aqsa Flood, which began on 7 October.

Although widely lauded for his seemingly balanced and refreshing take, he expressed a “both sides are bad” perspective, asserting that there are “no heroes in this conflict, only victims.” This is in spite of the clear disparity in firepower and military, political and financial support from the West for the occupation state, compared to the Palestinian people who lack a State and a regular army to defend themselves.

In fairness, the Saudi Royal did acknowledge that “Israel has overwhelming military superiority and we see in front of our eyes. The devastation and oblivion, it is bringing to the people of Gaza.” He also called out the apartheid state over its “indiscriminate bombing of innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza” and the “indiscriminate arrest of Palestinian children, women and men in the West Bank”.

“What more provocation is required to make it provoked than what Israel has done to the Palestinian people for three-quarters of a century?” Prince Turki asked, before citing a MEMO article from 2014, entitled ‘Israeli army veterans admit role in massacres of Palestinians in 1948,’ “Read it and weep, as I did,” he said.

Yet the former Ambassador to the US, also condemned “Hamas’ targeting of civilian targets of any age or gender, as it is accused of,” stressing that such acts go against Islamic injunctions about harming civilians.

This is not as straightforward as it seems, given that the self-proclaimed Jewish state is not an ordinary one for several reasons, with compulsory military conscription and well-armed, extremist settlers occupying Palestinian land. In fact, attacks by illegal settlers against Palestinians and their properties in the Occupied-West Bank have reached record numbers, since the latest outbreak of war. As such, it is argued that adult settlers, being “the occupation’s first reserve military force” are legitimate targets.

Also, irrespective of Israel’s paid social media posts, spreading fake news and getting fact-checked, and using AI-generated imagery for propaganda purposes, the latest testimony by a released captive, on humanitarian grounds, challenges the mainstream media narrative of the treatment afforded to those under captivity in Gaza, against the relentless bombardment by the enemy.

“When we arrived in Gaza, they first told us that they believed in the Quran and would not harm us; they said that they would treat us the way they treat their neighbours, we were under intensive care,” said 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz who was released on Monday.

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Nonetheless, the most significant part of Bin Faisal’s speech, was his acceptance that

all militarily occupied people have a right to resist their occupation, even militarily

This was reasonable, yet what followed was less compelling:

“I do not support the military option in Palestine. I prefer the other option: civil insurrection and disobedience. It brought down the British Empire in India and the Soviet Empire in eastern Europe,” he argued.

This assertion raises questions about the sincerity of such a stance coming from someone of Prince Turki’s stature. Given his extensive education in  Britain and the US, as well as his experience as a top diplomat and spy chief, it is difficult to believe that he genuinely holds this view.

It is worth noting that his father, the popular King Faisal, was known for his principled anti-Zionist and pan-Islamist stance. He even initiated the oil embargo against the West in response to their support for Israel during the October War of 1973.

As Prince Turki would be well aware, all nation-states or their borders have been established through political violence, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the occupation state of Israel are no exceptions. After all, “’Every state is founded on force,’ said Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk,” sociologist Max Weber noted approvingly, while civil rights leader, Malcolm X, famously contended that “There’s no such thing as a non-violent revolution.”

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The two cases Bin Faisal cites, ironically, are related to major wars and instances of armed struggle.

It is also not entirely accurate to suggest it was mere “civil disobedience” and non-violent protests led by Mahatma Gandhi that ended British rule of India. After World War II, Britain was in a weakened state and had little option but to grant independence. The financial and human costs of the war had severely depleted the British Empire’s resources, hence they were no longer able to maintain the vast colonial empire, including the “Jewel in the Crown”, India.

Nor can we disregard the violent Indian Mutiny (1857-59 C.E), which “For many Indians it also marked the start of their long struggle for independence.” Furthermore, the Quit India Movement led by Gandhi did include violent uprisings and was considered to be “by far the most serious rebellion since that of 1857”.

“According to government figures, over 200 police stations were destroyed and 61 trains were derailed. In a number of areas of the country, revolutionary governments took over, driving the British out and demanding independence.”

As for the demise of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, Prince Turki should be more acquainted than most that it was arguably the US-supported and Saudi-backed Afghan jihad that played an instrumental role in bringing down the Soviet Union, leading to its internal conflicts, as a final theatre of the wider Cold War, a series of proxy wars fought across the Global South between the two superpowers at the time:

“That the Afghanistan war was critical in the collapse of the Soviet Union resonates well with theories emphasising major wars as key factors in the demise of empires. Major wars among great powers reorient the domestic politics of the warring parties by weakening powerful groups and enfranchising less powerful groups.”

Al-Aqsa Flood is an unprecedented challenge to Israel and represents the deadliest war by a resistance movement against the occupation state. It has also stretched the military thin, to such extents that a ground invasion of Gaza, while deemed necessary for whatever genocidal endgame the Israelis are planning, is facing set-back after set-back, given the formidable Resistance in the Strip, and the deterrence factor of risking heightening current border clashes with Hezbollah. There is also the potential for other resistance factions in the wider region, such as those in Yemen and Iraq, should the US intervene.

Amid a massive media campaign that often dehumanises the Palestinian people and characterises their right to defence as mere terrorism, (tactics which the founding fathers of Israel would recognise), a global outpouring of support for the Palestinian cause demonstrates that, contrary to Prince Turki’s suggestion, the Palestinian Resistance has not given the “high moral ground to an Israeli government.” Instead, it is the occupying state that faces the risk of further eroding its already limited and aging support base due its actions which are increasingly difficult to defend.

All national liberation struggles involve varying degrees of violence, and the Palestinian one is no exception; to suggest otherwise is as misguided and deluded as talk of a two-state solution.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.