Physical Geography


Israel has a variety of landforms. The Mediterranean coast is a relatively flat, fertile plain, edged by areas of sand dunes near the sea. It is extremely narrow—less than one mile (1.6 km)—near Haifa, where Mount Carmel rises abruptly, but attains widths of 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 km) elsewhere. Most of Israel's population and industry is concentrated on the plain.

East of the plain is a region of hills and low mountains. It includes virtually all of the region of Galilee and extends southward along the edge of Samaria and Judea to the Negev. Much of the land is rolling terrain, less than 2,000 feet (600 m) above sea level. Israel's highest peak is 3,962-foot (1,208-m) Mount Meron in northern Galilee. Across southern Galilee runs the historic and productive Valley of Jezreel, or Esdraelon.

Facts in brief about Israel
Capital: Jerusalem.
Official languages: Hebrew and Arabic.
Area: 8,550 mi2 (22,145 km2), not including 2,700 mi2 (7,000 km2) of Arab territory occupied since 1967. Greatest distances—north-south, 260 mi (420 km); east-west, 70 mi (110 km). Coastline—170 mi (273 km).
Elevation: Highest—Mount Meron, 3,963 ft (1,208 m) above sea level. Lowest—shore of the Dead Sea, about 1,373 ft (419 m) below sea level.
Population: Current estimate—7,250,000; density, 848 per mi2 (327 per km2); distribution, 92 percent urban, 8 percent rural. 2006 official government estimate—7,037,500. Population figures do not include people living in occupied Arab territories, except for Israeli citizens.
Chief products: Agriculture—citrus and other fruits, cotton, eggs, grains, poultry, vegetables. Manufacturing—chemical products, electronic equipment, fertilizer, finished diamonds, paper, plastics, processed foods, scientific and optical instruments, textiles and clothing. Mining—potash, bromine, salt, phosphates.
National anthem: "Hatikva" ("The Hope").
Flag and coat of arms: Israel's flag has a blue Star of David, an ancient Jewish symbol, on a white background. There are two blue horizontal stripes, one is above and the other below the Star of David. The colors are those of a tallit (prayer shawl). The coat of arms shows the Menorah (ancient holy candleholder) and olive branches. Hebrew letters spell Israel.
Money: Basic unit—new shekel. One hundred agorot equal one new shekel.

The most desolate part of Israel is the Negev, a wedge-shaped region south of Beersheba. It is largely a land of barren plains and scattered low mountains, with few settlements or towns. The Negev accounts for about half of Israel's area.

Along the entire eastern edge of the country runs a deep rift valley, part of the Great Rift Valley system that extends through the Red Sea and across much of eastern Africa. Israel's section north of the Dead Sea is known as the Jordan Valley; its southern section, the Arava. Part of the Jordan Valley above the Sea of Galilee is also known as the Hula Valley. Most of the rift valley's floor lies below sea level and is flanked by cliffs and sharp escarpments. The surface of the Dead Sea, with the lowest elevation on earth, rests more than 1,300 feet (400 m) below sea level.


Except for the Jordan River, Israel's rivers are short and small and generally flow only during winter. The Jordan River, with headstreams in Lebanon and Syria, begins in the northern part of the rift valley, flows southward into the Sea of Galilee, and continues to the Dead Sea. Water diverted from the Sea of Galilee by the National Water Carrier, an aqueduct system, serves cities and irrigated areas on the coastal plain and in the northern part of the Negev. There are no permanent rivers in the Negev.


The climate of northern and central Israel is Mediterranean, resembling that of southern California. Summers are hot and dry—virtually no rain falls May through October. August is the hottest month, with temperatures averaging 75° to 80° F. (24° to 27° C.) and daytime highs reaching 90° to 100° F. (32° to 38° C.). The hottest area is the Jordan Valley.

Winters in the Mediterranean region are short and cool and bring almost all the moisture that falls in Israel. During January, the coldest month, temperatures average around 50° F. (10° C.), varying slightly with location. Only occasionally—mainly in the north—do temperatures drop below freezing. Precipitation consists almost entirely of rain and totals 20 to 30 inches (500 to 750 mm) a year. A few areas receive more; some, especially in the south, receive less.

The climate of the Negev is considerably hotter and drier than that of the Mediterranean region and increases in severity toward the south and southeast. In the extreme south and in the rift valley as far as the Dead Sea, August daytime highs often exceed 110° F. (43° C.). Winters are brief and mild. Rainfall in the Negev decreases from less than 10 inches (250 mm) in the north to 1 inch (25 mm) in the south and in the rift valley.