“Frustrations and Humiliations of the Occupation”: JM Coetzee at the closing night of PalFest 2016

Coetzee has always been careful to avoid using literature to make direct political statements, but in this video recording during the Palestine Festival in Ramallah  on May 28, 2016, he explicitly condemns the racist and colonial nature of Israel’s occupation.

Even though the South African author distinguishes the current situation in Palestine from apartheid-era South Africa, he implies that the conditions to which Palestinians are today subject and those under which South African Blacks lived are strikingly similar:

To speak 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.

Given Coetzee’s status as an international literary figure, whose works are free from partisanship–he is hardly a Palestine solidarity activist or advocate for BDS–it will be interesting to see how apologists for Israel respond to his statement. Will Coetzee now be accused of anti-semtism? Will the always vigilant defenders of Israel add his name to their lists, such as Canary Mission? Will he suffer the embargoes imposed on other artists, writers, musicians, filmmakers and intellectuals who stand with the Palestinians?

Coetzee’s pronouncements about Israel’s “colonial conquest” are an indication that criticism of Israel, once associated only with those who dared to speak out about the injustices faced by Palestinians, has entered the wider public realm.