As regular readers will know, I have a fascination with the daily trivia and minutiae of suburbia which has lead me down all sorts of paths and odd destinations over the years.
But taking a proper holiday in anonymous suburbia without even the excuse of visiting distant relatives takes it all to a whole new level of psychogeographer’s delight. Best of all, I didn’t have to persuade anyone to organise it. Himself has done a superb job of beaming us into this little town of families, shops, recreation grounds and tree-lined boulevards but not a single restaurant, independent cafe or cinema screen. Forget Alternative Tourism off the beaten track in third world countries: Suburban Alternative Tourism has all the feeling of being somewhere “different” and “undiscovered” without the backpacks and earth closets.
As we wandered the mall this morning and wondered at the disproportionate number of hairdressers, the existence of a knitting wool shop (scarce enough in England these days) and the idea of going for a night out at the local burger eatery, we reflected that our holiday destination was the Israeli equivalent of, say, a week in Milton Keynes. But fascinating nonetheless.
I wrote yesterday of the importance of challenging assumptions and preconceived ideas. And despite being in this settlement less than 48 hours, I am already forced to question a lot of assumptions I hold as an outsider.
One of the biggest puzzles has been the sight of such a mix of people and cultures. If I had started off expecting to see mostly rabidly extremist, prejudiced and narrow-minded religious zealots (and my language alone there demonstrates the strength of my own convictions on the whole issue of West Bank settlements), I was taken aback to see such a mix of apparently Ordinary People. In the absence of serious religious-political conviction, what might lead them here?
I reflected that as a visual artist, I tend to just observe and not engage enough. Luckily Himself is more than ready to engage, and as soon as he heard locals talking in a language we could converse in, he jumped at the chance to find out more.
And as with so many things in life, economics are at the root of it all for so many. Housing here is relatively cheap and accessible, and for those who just want to be here in Israel to be able to live in a Jewish majority or perhaps just to escape uncomfortable prejudice elsewhere, this place is a great place to end up. Safe and comfortable for families, good schools: for many this is all that matters, and who am I to criticise from the affluent privilege of my life elsewhere?
The French family we spoke to had been here 17 years and loved it. They talked of the large numbers of South Americans, Mexicans, Asians and Africans loving it here just as much.
I think this is set to be a complicated and thought-provoking week for us. Nothing in life is simple. There are many sides to reality. Truth is obscure.
Ultimately we can do no more than listen and try to understand people as fellow human beings, however uncomfortable this may be.