Coetzee listens, learns in Palestine

South African-born Nobel laureate JM Coetzee was among the writers who attended last week’s Palestine Festival of Literature, the ninth in the annual series. Authors visited parts of Palestine and Israel, giving workshops and doing readings.

On the closing night, Coetzee introduced the proceedings with a brief speech he read from handwritten notes:

“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 frustration and the humiliations of the 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 the 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 particularly to cement its hold on the land and natural resources.

“In Jerusalem and in the West Bank – to speak only of Jerusalem and 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.

“Draw your own conclusions.”

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Darryl Accone
Darryl Accone
Darryl Accone has been in journalism for the best part of four decades. He is also a Fellow of the Salzburg Seminar and the International Writers Workshop of Hong Kong Baptist University and the author of ‘All Under Heaven: The Story of a Chinese Family in South Africa’ and ‘Euripides Must Die’.

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Stellenbosch Mafia mindset plays out in racist incidents at Maties

A white student urinating on a black student’s property has brought into focus a strong undercurrent of racism

Stalin’s reign of terror foreshadows Putin’s hold on Russia

Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine has accelerated Russia’s slide towards totalitarian rule.

PODCAST | After the ANC

We need to reimagine South Africa without the ANC and if we do not, we will either live with false hope or the country’s crisis will intensify

Lesufi comforts schools where three brothers died after drinking an...

Gauteng MEC of education Panyaza Lesufi assured those affected by the deaths that they are not alone

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…