Tell Americans you’ve just been to “Hicksville” and they will likely imagine a fairly remote, rural place -- probably part of what East and West Coasters often refer to as flyover country, that flat landlocked swath located solidly in the middle. It’s pretty different in Israel, though.
As a country roughly the size of New Jersey, this place is not only too small to have flyover country; here, the middle of the country is considered “the center” (hamerkaz), not just geographically but also economically and socially. Thus, just about any part of the country that’s not in the Jerusalem area or the merkaz (another word for the greater Tel Aviv area) is considered the “periphery,” or, to use the word borrowed by the Hebrew language, the “peripheria” (peh-ree-FEH-ree-ya). Given that Israel is much longer than it is wide, Israelis don’t blink at summarily dismissing roughly two-thirds of the country -- essentially the north and the south -- as nothing but the outskirts.
Never mind that Haifa and Be’er Sheva are the cities that anchor the north and the south, respectively; the smaller towns surrounding them are seen not so much as the suburbs of those cities as they are lumped together into one big, albeit disconnected, “periphery” that is, as a rule, less densely populated and more economically deprived than the center. And when these cities and towns built in the early days of statehood are individually discussed, they are often referred to as “development towns” (an ir pituah or ayarat pituah), an insidious euphemism that conveys more an absence of development than its presence. It is often used the same way on an international scale; after all, the phrase “the developing world” has become the acceptable way to say “the part of the world that’s not as developed as we are.”
For residents of a land whose every millimeter is so hotly contested and whose northernmost and southernmost tips are close enough that the country’s length can be traversed in a day, many Israelis are oddly willing to write off the country’s head and legs, cavalierly relegating them to mere periphery.