Focus on Tel Aviv
David Ben-Gurion, the founding prime minister of Israel, in 1919 spoke fatalistically about conflicts in a land where so many people have longed to find milk and honey, but instead have found only hatred and vitriol: “Everybody sees a difficulty in the question of relations between Arabs and Jews. But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question. No solution!”
For 95 years since Ben-Gurion spoke—and for centuries before that—“no solution” has defined a clash of religions, cultures and ethnicities in a region that has nurtured not only Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but also other faiths and sects. Arabs and Israelis kill each other. Christians, Jews and Muslims slaughter one another. Shiite Muslims and Sunnis lay waste to large portions of each other’s communities with suicide bombers. Add to this more than a thousand years of colonial European and American militaries staking out the Middle East as a preferred battleground. And although not a new phenomenon, terrorism’s new virulent strains blur borders, deform religion and ideals, and lash out with homicidal intensity at innocent victims.
Consider the Yazidis. More likely, you’ve never considered them. Few people had ever heard of this small religion in Iraq and Syria until the “Islamic State,” aka ISIS or ISIL, started a genocidal slaughter against the Yazidis this summer.
Has humanity’s obsession with carnage reached the point that psychotics seeking Armageddon must scour the countryside for new groups to massacre? Was Ben-Gurion right—“no solution”? Futility and despair have been on agonizing display over the past several months in Israel and Palestine, with each step forward seemingly trumped by two steps back.
Is that sad state inevitable? Maybe not.
Ideal Organizations offer a complete array of services to Scientologists, and serve as outreach centers to surrounding cities and communities.
At that opening, Scientology ecclesiastical leader David Miscavige expressed optimism—not the anger and pessimism that permeates the Middle East: “This Center signifies … a place that speaks to the essence of Scientology as a religion of and for all religions, as a universal religion, and a pandenominational religion that strives to help every other religion to fulfill itself, to fulfill and achieve their aspirations and dreams.”
“In that respect,” Mr. Miscavige continued, “this Center indeed represents what was so graciously described [by other speakers] as our way of giving ‘another dimension’ to other faiths without negating or in any way conflicting with those faiths. … It represents what was just as graciously described as a ‘house of the heart’ for both Jaffa and Tel Aviv.”
Rimon Kasher, professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, also spoke at the opening event: “Scientology is the only religion that can create a connection or even affinity between the different faiths. … And all this in light of the Scientology aim to ‘prevent insanity, criminality and war.’”
Insanity, criminality and war were sadly attendant, all three, in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip this summer. For 50 days, Israeli bombardment, Palestinian rocket attacks, and ground fighting killed more than 2,200 people, at least half of them civilians and more than 500 of them children. And true to its mission, soon after Israel launched its Operation Protective Edge on July 8, the Scientology Center dispatched 50 Volunteer Ministers to the war-torn region, armed only with training in the alleviation of physical, mental and spiritual suffering. They were on the ground in towns near Gaza for nearly a month, delivering supplies to bomb shelters and youth centers, assisting and comforting children, offering help wherever needed.
“We heard explosions nearby every few minutes,” wrote one volunteer in a letter during the active conflict, describing a children’s event the group hosted that day. “I had chosen not to go to a funeral of the brother of a friend who was killed from battle wounds. Knowing that the funeral was taking place at the same time as the event made this quite an emotional day. I could shed my tears both from the grief of a loss and the joy of helping children have a moment of happiness in a frustrating time of war.”
That passion and idealism was at the heart of the Scientology Center’s founding and beats in its activities. An interfaith coalition known as Small Peace was established at the Center with the aim of increasing understanding and tolerance among Israel’s diverse religious faiths, advancing social betterment programs, and, of course, promoting peace and human rights.
Small Peace has sponsored meetings and human rights events attended by individuals representing a variety of faiths. These include International Peace Day forums attended by artists, educators, journalists, community leaders and religious scholars. The discussion events focus on conflict resolution and promoting moral choices.
While Tel Aviv Scientology public affairs officer Sefi Fischler is proud of the Center’s achievements to date, he knows that far more must be done to curb a conflict that has served to stigmatize Israel throughout the world. “You can feel the tension constantly, even here in Tel Aviv,” Fischler said in an interview with Freedom. “The enemy for us is the generalizing and stigmatizing that people do of each side. They too often allow their emotions to take over, and antagonism results. The media tends to inflame everyone, too. That’s what happens in a war like this one.”
That negativity and agitation by the press—and by partisans motivated to spread propaganda and hate—inspired Fischler and his associates at the Scientology Center to wage their own campaign of communication and understanding. A key part of that is regular distribution of the book The Way to Happiness, the nonreligious, common-sense moral code written by Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard.
A special printing of 30,000 copies of The Way to Happiness was done in July in the Arabic language, with teams of volunteers fanning out to distribute them in the West Bank and Gaza Strip—in the center of the most recent turmoil. It proved so successful that an additional 30,000 copies were printed in August in Hebrew, bearing a custom cover of the Tel Aviv skyline.
“These are only the beginning,” Fischler assured. “Passing out The Way to Happiness changes and unites people and, one by one, we can achieve peace.”
The Way to Happiness spells out a series of universal, cross-cultural precepts such as “Respect the Religious Beliefs of Others,” “Do Not Harm a Person of Good Will” and “Try to Treat Others as You Would Want Them to Treat You.”
“That’s really what this is all about,” says one of the Scientologists who led the latest distribution effort in Tel Aviv. “The peace movement has to begin somewhere, and I believe this is that place. There can be no more war if we adopt the values spelled out in this guide.”
Reuven Shabbat, a poet, writer, journalist and owner of the fourth largest poetry and literature website in Israel, agrees: “There is no doubt that these precepts provide worthy tools for the day-to-day life of this community. They predispose the Israeli community toward creating a more correct path of positive existence in the daily coping with not-so-simple life situations. …The messages in The Way to Happiness prove beyond any doubt that there are ways to create a dialogue of peace between human beings and build trust, reciprocity and honor, regardless if we are Jewish or Arab.”
Indeed, Dr. Hassan Marhagi, chairman of the Arabic Press Chamber of the Israeli Communication & Press Association, finds the same response to The Way to Happiness in the Arabic Muslim community.
“Like light in the darkness and rain in times of drought, they received these precepts with great thirst,” Marhagi told Freedom. “The Way to Happiness brought light not only to the eyes but to the hearts and souls and represents a new way to live.” He labeled the precepts “a set of ethical tools for life, representing compassion and a new theory in the face of a hostile environment.”
Marhagi said that he has personally seen how the books can bring a spark back to people’s eyes, a flush to their cheeks and a smile to their face. And beyond that, he believes that the solution to building a lasting peace in Israel lies in Mr. Hubbard’s discoveries on the resolution of conflicts and detecting the “third party”—referring to the Scientology Founder’s “Third Party Law” that points to the existence of an outside, interfering individual or group for conflict to occur. (See “The Third Party Law”.)
“It’s also about people reading and applying The Way to Happiness and recognizing the right of others to live peaceful and quiet lives,” Marhagi added. And just as The Way to Happiness resonates with Jews and Muslims, so too does it with the area’s Druze community. Sheikh Hussein Laviv Abu-Rukun, chairman of the Committee for the Preservation of the Druze Religion’s Heritage in Israel, counts himself as a proud supporter of The Way to Happiness message.
Scientology is the only religion that can create a connection or even affinity between the different faiths. … And all this in light of the Scientology aim to ‘prevent insanity, criminality and war.’
—Rimon Kasher, Professor Emeritus, Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv
Sheikh Abu-Rukun told Freedom, “These precepts represent a universal message that fits all peoples. The Druze are a very spiritual people, and this corresponds totally to our way of life and beliefs.” He believes that the book “teaches the reader how to rub elbows with other people and communities and find the common denominators that lead to peace and harmony.”
The Way to Happiness also rings true with Christians in Israel, as do all the much-lauded Scientology-supported humanitarian programs. At the Center’s grand opening in 2012, Peter Habash, chairman of the Jaffa Orthodox Christian Community, said, “I am impressed with your efforts to work in such causes as your fight against drugs, supporting human rights, and helping with your Volunteer Ministers.”
The notion of treating all religions and ethnicities with tolerance and respect is what Arab businessman Halabi Faiz, organizer of the first The Way to Happiness distribution effort, says drove him to persevere. As Faiz tells it, a cab driver skeptically asked him about this book he was holding. Faiz responded by inviting the cabbie to have a cup of coffee and read it for himself. Within a few hours, the driver returned to ask for 10 more copies that he could hand out to his friends and acquaintances.
Hearing that story, Scientology Tel Aviv’s Fischler said, “When people read and use The Way to Happiness and embrace it, it changes lives.”