JM Coetzee on Israeli occupation and South African apartheid: “Draw your own conclusions”

On 26 May, South African Nobel Prize-winning author JM Coetzee spoke at the closing of the Palestine Festival of Literature, where he made comparisons between apartheid South Africa and the Israeli occupation.

“I came to Palestine to see and listen and learn and over the course of the past week I have seen and heard and learned a great deal. I come away with an enduring impression of the courage and the resilience of the Palestinian people at this difficult time in their history. Also of the grace and humour with which they respond to the frustrations and the humiliations of their occupation.

I was born and brought up in South Africa and so naturally people ask me what I see of South Africa in the present situation in Palestine. Using the word apartheid to describe the way things are here, I’ve never found to be a productive step. Like using the word genocide to describe what happened in Turkey in the 1920s, using the word apartheid diverts one into an inflamed semantic wrangle, which cuts short the opportunities of analysis.

Apartheid was a system of enforced segregation based on race or ethnicity, put in place by an exclusive, self-defined group in order to consolidate colonial conquest particular to cement its hold on the land and on natural resources. In Jerusalem and in the West Bank — to speak only of Jerusalem and the West Bank — we see a system of enforced segregation based on religion and ethnicity, put in place by an exclusive self-defined group to consolidate a colonial conquest, in particular to maintain and indeed extend its hold on the land and its natural resources.

Draw your own conclusions.”

Wath the video here: