Nobel Prize Winner, J. M. Coetzee Parallels South Africa and Israel

Participants of the Palestine festival of Literature walk through Hebron amidst the Israeli military. (Photo: Via Mondoweiss)

By Hawa Monier

The Palestine Festival of Literature hosted its ninth gathering of literary gurus and the like who were invited to tour Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

The authors invited to the festival this year included Nobel Prize winner for literature, acclaimed novelist and anti-apartheid South African activist, J.M. Coetzee. It was he who delivered the gripping keynote address to the gathering which was powerful in drawing similarities between a turbulent oppressive past experienced by non-white South Africans, and a clearly separatist policy in Occupied Palestine.

“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,” Coetzee said at the Ramallah closing event of the literature festival.

Coetzee expressed his deep admiration for oppressed Palestinians amidst their humiliating and dehumanizing experiences: “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.”

In his speech, Coetzee further highlighted the many similarities in the enforced segregation policies of the occupied territories, stating that, “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 natural resources.”

His parallel between South Africa and the occupied Palestinian territories was further drawn on as Coetzee stated: “In Jerusalem and in the West Bank … we’ve seen a system of enforced segregation based on religion and ethnicity, put in place by an exclusive self-defined group to consolidate the colonial conquest, in particular to maintain and indeed extend its hold on the land and its natural resources.”

Coetzee pulled back no punches in his clear description of two oppressive territories – a South Africa that is still struggle against the ravages of its past, and a Palestine that continues to live out its days under the yoke of Israeli aggression and oppression.

Coetzee’s message was clear – separation of any kind, based on any factors which promote difference and abuse can never and should never be condoned.

– Hawa Monier is an editor at PalestineChronicle.com.

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1 Comment

  1. I don’t agree with Coetzee that the use of the word “apartheid” in connection with the Palestinian struggle is not “productive”. It is very productive, and it is very true. I lived n South Africa at the height of apartheid, from 1953 to 1977, and I am struck by its similarities with Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians. As the whole land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River becomes one country ruled by Israel, the similarities will become even more obvious, and the struggle of the Palestinians will be a struggle for equal rights in a unified Palestine/Israel, especially immigration rights.

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