On 7 October, the elected government of the state of Gaza – yes, I know that phrase contains at least three technical errors – sent shock troops into Israel. They brutalized, killed, and maimed, innocent civilians. The death toll exceeded 1,400 persons, both civilians and soldiers. They took hostages back into Gaza – by some accounts, about 240 persons – to use as chips to negotiate the release of Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
The Gazans also sent thousands of rockets into Israel, aimed at civilians. Israel responded by relentlessly bombing densely populated Gaza. The government of Malaysia declared unwavering support for the Gazans.
Is Hamas the government of Gaza? Does it have an electoral mandate to govern Gaza? Is Gaza a state? According to Hamas, the answer to all these questions is “yes.” But not according to Fatah, the leading member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) which governs the West Bank.
According to the United Nations (UN), the lands called the West Bank and Gaza are one nation, Palestine.
But the two lands are not ruled by the same government. And, the PLO has disavowed violence against Israel, while Hamas has vowed to use violence to drive all Jews out of Israel and form an Islamic state.
The UN treats Palestine as one nation governed by a coalition led by Mahmoud Abbas. It grants nothing to Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas.
Abbas and Haniyeh do not represent Arabs who are citizens of Israel – who can vote in national elections.
Arabs make up 21% of Israel’s population. 12% of public sector employees are Arab. There are 17 Arabs in the 120-member national assembly. National service is not compulsory for Arab-Israelis, but some of them apply to and are accepted in the Israeli Defence Force.
Very strikingly, Arabs make up 17% of Israel’s doctors, 24% of nurses, and 47% of pharmacists.
But If I were asked whether Israel is an apartheid state, I would have to answer yes, because all Israeli governments to-date insist that Israel is a Jewish state – much like South African governments insisted South Africa was the “promised land” of white settlers.
With that as background, I come to the gospel passage the lectionary invites us to ponder this Sunday: Matthew 25:1-13. The English Standard Version supplies it the title “The Parable of the Ten Virgins.” It’s one of several parables Jesus told about the Kingdom of God and the end-times.
There are four speaking characters: five foolish virgins, five wise virgins, a news crier, and a bridegroom. The virgins wait in the dark, for a bridegroom’s party to arrive and enter a banquet hall. The work of the virgins is to serve as torchbearers, to provide cheer and joy. Five of them come with oil for their torches, five come without oil. The bridegroom is late. All ten fall asleep. The news crier announces, “the groom is here!” Those without oil ask those with oil to share their oil. Those with oil refuse. They tell those without oil to go, buy, and return. Those without oil go. Those with oil light their torches, join the wedding party, do their work, and enter the banquet hall. The door is locked. Those without oil arrive. They knock. They ask to enter. The groom says, “No way!”
What was Jesus’ telling his hearers? What’s he telling us today?
I think there are three points. One, not everyone will be included in the eternal kingdom. Two, everyone must be always ready for the final call. Three, no amount of pleading will change the status of the unprepared.
As I wrote in the introduction I added to last week’s guest column, “In the Kingdom of God, when people weep in Jerusalem and in Gaza, we in Kuala Lumpur also weep. And we look at God. And at one another. And we check to see if we’ve been reading using the wrong glasses.”
All ten virgins longed for the bridegroom’s arrival. We long for the coming of the peaceable kingdom. But we mustn’t forget that a great tribulation comes before it. The last book of the Bible, the Revelation of John, is dedicated to this inevitable, terrible, chapter of history.
All ten virgins fell asleep. They could sleep because what they expected was something pleasant. What kind of sleep, if any, can you have if your nation is not under a cross, but under a tree growing from well-watered seeds of hatred, of distrust? Also, before, or in the time spent ‘sleeping,’ what conversations should you be having and what actions should you be taking?
All ten virgins heard the news crier. The time to rise-up and act had come. When Hamas initiated the feet-on-the-ground assault on Israel and fired rockets, who was ready in Gaza? Ready to do what? Flee? Where to? Fight? Whom? Will there be a next time? Can they deflect it? Can they be better prepared?
Just as Jews push for a Jewish state and Hamas pushes for an Islamic state, there are people around the world who push for ethnic/religious states. Who are the virgins in their stories? Who has oil, who hasn’t?
We know tribulation has come again in a very recognizable way in Israel and Palestine. Can we do anything to limit its effects and its potential for growth? What lessons can we learn from it? Are we sleeping?
The next instalment has been published. Click here to read.
 I’m relying on a report prepared by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, a coalition of 100 North American Jewish organizations. The data is for 2019. The government has a policy goal of filling 10% of public sector jobs with Arabs.
 The Knesset, which is like Malaysia’s Parliament.
 I do not know the intricacies of the classifications. The few may be Bedouins.
 See for example, Israel’s hugely controversial “nation-state” law, explained.
 See for example, How a debate over textbooks closed 150 schools in East Jerusalem. Also, one of the first actions Martin Luther King Jr. took when he became pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was to establish a Political Action Committee. See recommendation #11 in his Recommendations to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church for the Fiscal Year 1954-1955. It was his first pastorate. He was 24 years old.
 Charter of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) of Palestine. See especially Article 7, which includes this Hadith: The Last Hour would not come until the Muslims
fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them, and until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say. Muslim or Servant of Allah there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree of Gharqad would not say it, for it is the tree of the Jews (Bukhari and Muslim).