Israel's area within boundaries and cease-fire lines, including the areas under Palestinian self-government, is 10,840 square miles (27,800 sq. km.). Long and narrow in shape, it is some 290 miles (470 km.) in length and about 85 miles (135 km.) across at the widest point. The country is bordered by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan to the east, Egypt to the southwest and the Mediterranean Sea to the west.
Mountains and plains, fertile fields and desert are often minutes apart. The width of the country, from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Dead Sea in the east, can be crossed by car in about 90 minutes; and the trip from Metulla, in the far north, to Eilat at the country's southern tip takes about six hours.
Geographical FeaturesThe country may be divided into four geographical regions: three parallel strips running north to south and a large, mostly arid zone in the southern half.
The coastal plain runs parallel to the Mediterranean Sea and is composed of a sandy shoreline, bordered by stretches of fertile farmland extending up to 25 miles (40 km.) inland. In the north, expanses of sandy beach are occasionally punctuated by jagged chalk and sandstone cliffs which drop sheerly to the sea.
The coastal plain is home to over half of Israel's nearly 5.8 million people and includes major urban centers, deepwater harbors, most of the country's industry and a large part of its agriculture and tourist facilities.
Several mountain ranges run the length of the country. In the northeast, the basalt landscapes of the Golan Heights, formed by volcanic eruptions in the distant past, rise as steep cliffs overlooking the Hula Valley. The hills of Galilee, largely composed of soft limestone and dolomite, ascend to heights ranging from 1,600 to 4,000 feet (500 to 1,200 m.) above sea level. Small perennial streams and relatively ample rainfall keep the area green all year round. Residents of Galilee and the Golan, some 17 percent of Israel's population, are engaged in agriculture, tourism-related enterprises and light industry.
The Jezreel Valley, separating the hills of Galilee from those of Samaria, is the country's richest agricultural area, cultivated by many cooperative communities (kibbutzim and moshavim). The rolling hills of Samaria and Judea present a mosaic of rocky hilltops and fertile valleys, dotted with age-old silver-green olive groves. The terraced hillsides, first developed by farmers in ancient times, blend into the natural landscape. The population is concentrated mainly in small urban centers and large villages.
The Negev, comprising about half of Israel's land area, is inhabited by only 8 percent of the population, living mainly in the northern part, supported by an agricultural and industrial economy. Further south, the Negev becomes an arid zone characterized by low sandstone hills and plains, abounding with canyons and wadis in which winter rains often produce flash floods. Continuing southward, the region gives way to an area of bare craggy peaks, craters and rock-strewn plateaus, where the climate is drier and the mountains are higher. Three erosive craters, the largest of which is about 5 miles (8 km.) across and 21 miles (35 km.) long, cut deeply into the earth's crust, displaying a broad range of colors and rock types. At the tip of the Negev, near Eilat on the Red Sea, sharp pinnacles of gray and red granite are broken by dry gorges and sheer cliffs, with colorful layers of sandstone glowing in the sunlight.
The Jordan Valley and the Arava, running the length of the country in the east, are part of the Syrian-African Rift which split the earth's crust millions of years ago. Its northern stretches are extremely fertile, while the southern portion is semi-arid. Agriculture, fishing, light industry and tourism constitute the area's main sources of income.
The Jordan River, flowing from north to south through the Rift, descends over 2,300 feet (700 m.) in the course of its 186 mile (300 km.) route. Fed by streams from Mount Hermon, it runs through the fertile Hula Valley into Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and continues winding through the Jordan Valley before emptying into the Dead Sea. While it swells during the winter rainy season, the river is usually quite narrow and shallow.
Lake Kinneret, nestled between the hills of Galilee and the Golan at 695 feet (212 m.) below sea level, is 5 miles (8 km.) wide and 13 miles (21 km.) long. The Kinneret is the country's largest freshwater lake and serves as its main reservoir. Along its shores are some important historical and religious sites, as well as agricultural communities, fishing enterprises and tourist facilities.
The Arava, Israel's savannah region, begins south of the Dead Sea and extends to the Gulf of Eilat, Israel's outlet to the Red Sea. Adaptation of sophisticated farming techniques to climatic conditions, where the average annual rainfall is less than one inch (25 mm.) and summer temperatures soar to 104 degrees F (40 deg C), has made it possible to grow out-of-season fruit and vegetables, mainly for export. The sub-tropical Gulf of Eilat, noted for its deep blue waters, coral reefs and exotic marine life, lies at the southern tip of the Arava.