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Geography of Israel
Continent Asia
Region Middle East
Coordinates 31°30′N 34°45′E / 31.5°N 34.75°E / 31.5; 34.75
Area Ranked 152
20,770 km2 (8,019.3 sq mi)
97.8[1]% land
2.2[1]% water
Borders Egypt 238 km
Gaza Strip 51 km
Jordan 266 km
Lebanon 79 km
Syria 76 km
West Bank 307 km[1]
Highest point 1208 m (Mount Meron)
Lowest point -408 m (Dead Sea)
Longest river Jordan

The geography of Israel is diverse, with desert conditions in the south and snow-capped mountains in the north. Israel is located at 31°30′N 34°45′E / 31.5°N 34.75°E / 31.5; 34.75 at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea in western Asia.[1] It is bounded to the north by Lebanon, the northeast by Syria, the east by Jordan and the West Bank, the southwest by Egypt with this border also being the border between Asia and Africa.[1] To the west of Israel is the Mediterranean Sea which makes up the majority of Israel's 273 kilometers (170 mi) coastline[2] and the Gaza strip. A small window onto the Red Sea exists in the south.

Israel's area is approximately 20,770 square kilometers (8,019 sq mi), which includes 445 square kilometers (172 sq mi) of inland water.[2] Israel stretches 424 kilometers (263 mi) from north to south, and its width ranges from 114 kilometers (71 mi) to, at its narrowest point, 15 kilometers (9.3 mi).[2] Israel also partially controls the West Bank, 5,879 square kilometers (2,270 sq mi) and the Golan Heights, 1,150 square kilometers (444 sq mi). Geographical features in these territories will be noted as such.

The south of Israel is dominated by the Negev desert covering some 12,000 square kilometres (4,633 sq mi), more than half of the country's total land area. The north of the Negev contains the Judean Desert, which, at its border with Jordan, contains the Dead Sea which, at -417 meters (−1,368 ft) is the lowest point on Earth. The inland area of central Israel is dominated by the Judean Hills of the West Bank, whilst the central and northern coastline consists of the flat and fertile Israeli coastal plain. Inland, the northern region contains the Mount Carmel mountain range, which is followed inland by the fertile Jezreel Valley, and then the hilly Galilee region. The Sea of Galilee is located beyond this, and is bordered to the east by the Golan Heights, which contains the highest point under Israel's control, a peak in the Mount Hermon massif, at 2,224 meters (7,297 ft). The highest point in Israel's internationally recognized territory is Mount Meron at 1,208 meters (3,963 ft).[1]


Location and extent

Israel on the world map

Israel lies to the north of the equator around 31°30' north latitude and 34°45' east longitude.[1] It is the 152nd largest country in the world, with a total land area of 20,770 square kilometres (8,019 sq mi).[1] Israel measures 424 km (263 mi) from north to south and, at its widest point 114 km (71 mi), from east to west.[1] At its narrowest point, however, this is reduced to just 15 km (9 mi). It has a land frontier of 1,017 km (632 mi) and a coastline of 273 km (170 mi).[1]

Israel is bounded to the west by the Mediterranean Sea, and to the south, the Red Sea. To the south-west is the Sinai Peninsula whilst the Syrian Desert is beyond Israel's frontier with Jordan to the east. The southernmost settlement in Israel is the city of Eilat whilst the northern-most is the local council of Metula. The territorial waters of Israel extend into the sea to a distance of twelve nautical miles measured from the appropriate baseline.[1]

Political geography

Districts of Israel

Israel is divided into six main administrative districts which are further divided into fifteen sub-districts. Each sub-district is further divided into natural regions, of which there are 50. The districts from north to south, and their sub-districts are:

The Golan sub-district, which contains four natural regions, is included in this amount, although it is not regarded by the UN or the vast majority of its membership as Israeli territory. Most of the West Bank, known in Israel as the Judea and Samaria area, is not included, since Israel has not fully applied its jurisdiction there. However, part of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem is governed as part of Jerusalem District though this step has also been condemned by the UN.

Physiographic regions

Topographical map of Israel
The rocky Northern Coastal Plain
View from Mount Carmel across the Coastal Plain
Northern rim of Makhtesh Ramon in the Negev
HaMakhtesh HaGadol in the Negev Desert.

Israel is divided into four physiographic regions: the Mediterranean coastal plain, the Central Hills, the Jordan Rift Valley and the Negev Desert.[1]


Mediterranean Coastal Plain

The Coastal Plain stretches from the Lebanese border in the north to Gaza in the south, interrupted only by Cape Carmel at Haifa Bay.[4] It is about 40 kilometers (25 mi) wide at Gaza and narrows toward the north to about 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) at the Lebanese border.[4] The region is fertile and humid (historically malarial) and is known for its citrus orchards and viticulture.[4] The plain is traversed by several short streams, of which only two, Yarkon and Kishon, have permanent water flows.[4]

The region is sub-divided into five sub-regions. The Western Galilee stretches from Rosh HaNikra in the far north, down to Israel's third-largest city, Haifa. It is a fertile region containing with a coastline with many small islands off of it.[5] South of Haifa is the Hof HaCarmel region which runs to the town of Zikhron Ya'aqov. The Sharon plain is the next stage down the Coastal Plain, running from Zikhron Ya'aqov to Tel Aviv's Yarkon River. This area is Israel's most densely populated. South of this, running to Nakhal Shikma, is the Central Coastal Plain. The southern region of the Coastal Plain is the Southern Coastal Plain (also known as the Shephelah, Plain of Judea, and Western Negev) and extends south to the Gaza Strip. It is divided into two. The Besor region, a savanna-type area with a relatively large number of communities, in the north, and the Agur-Halutsa region in the south which is very sparsely populated.[5]

The Central Hills

Inland (east) of the coastal plain lies the central highland region.[4] In the north of this region lie the mountains and hills of Upper Galilee and Lower Galilee which are generally 500 meters (1,640 ft) to 700 meters (2,297 ft) in height although reach a maximum height of 1,208 meters (3,963 ft) at Mount Meron.[4] South of the Galilee, in the West Bank, are the Samarian Hills with numerous small, fertile valleys rarely reaching the height of 800 meters (2,625 ft).[4] South of Jerusalem, also mainly within the West Bank, are the largely barren Judean Hills, including Mount Hebron.[4] The central highlands average 610 meters (2,001 ft) in height and reach their highest elevation at Har Meron, at 1,208 meters (3,963 ft), in Galilee near Safed.[4] Several valleys cut across the highlands roughly from east to west; the largest is the Jezreel Valley (also known as the Plain of Esdraelon), which stretches 48 kilometers (30 mi) from Haifa southeast to the valley of the Jordan River, and is 19 kilometers (12 mi) across at its widest point.[4]

Jordan Rift Valley

East of the central highlands lies the Jordan Rift Valley, which is a small part of the 6,500 kilometers (4,039 mi)-long Syrian-East African Rift.[4] In Israel the Rift Valley is dominated by the Jordan River, the Sea of Galilee (an important freshwater source also known as Lake Tiberias and Lake Kinneret), and the Dead Sea.[4] The Jordan, Israel's largest river (322 kilometers (200 mi)), originates in the Dan, Baniyas, and Hasbani rivers near Mount Hermon in the Anti-Lebanon Mountains and flows south through the drained Hula Basin into the freshwater Lake Tiberias. Lake Tiberias is 165 square kilometers (64 sq mi) in size and, depending on the season and rainfall, is at about 213 meters (699 ft) below sea level.[4] With a water capacity estimated at 3 cubic kilometers (0.72 cu mi), it serves as the principal reservoir of the National Water Carrier (also known as the Kinneret-Negev Conduit).[4] The Jordan River continues its course from the southern end of Lake Tiberias (forming the boundary between the West Bank and Jordan) to its terminus in the highly saline Dead Sea.[4] The Dead Sea is 1,020 square kilometers (394 sq mi) in size and, at 420 meters (1,378 ft) below sea level, is the lowest point in the world.[4] South of the Dead Sea, the Rift Valley continues in the Nahal HaArava (Wadi al Arabah), which has no permanent water flow, for 170 kilometers (106 mi) to the Gulf of Aqaba.[4]

Negev Desert

The Negev Desert comprises approximately 12,000 square kilometers (4,633 sq mi), more than half of Israel's total land area.[4] Geographically it is an extension of the Sinai Desert, forming a rough triangle with its base in the north near Beersheba, the Dead Sea, and the southern Judean Hills, and it has its apex in the southern tip of the country at Eilat.[4] Topographically, it parallels the other regions of the country, with lowlands in the west, hills in the central portion, and the Nahal HaArava as its eastern border.[4]

Unique to the Negev region are the craterlike makhteshim cirques; Makhtesh Ramon, Makhtesh Gadol and Makhtesh Katan.[6] The Negev is also sub-divided into five different ecological regions: northern, western and central Negev, the high plateau and the Arabah Valley.[7] The northern Negev receives 300 millimeters (11.8 in) of rain annually and has fairly fertile soils.[7] The western Negev receives 250 millimeters (9.8 in) of rain per year, with light and partially sandy soils.[7] The central Negev has an annual precipitation of 200 millimeters (7.9 in) and is characterized by impervious soil, allowing minimum penetration of water with greater soil erosion and water runoff.[7] This can result in rare flash floods during heavy rains as water runs across the surface of the impervious desert soil.[8] The high plateau area of Ramat HaNegev stands between 370 meters (1,214 ft) and 520 meters (1,706 ft) above sea level with extreme temperatures in summer and winter.[7] The area gets 100 millimeters (3.9 in) of rain each year, with inferior and partially salty soils.[7] The Arabah Valley along the Jordanian border stretches 180 kilometers (112 mi) from Eilat in the south to the tip of the Dead Sea in the north and is very arid with barely 50 millimeters (1.97 in) of rain annually.[7]


Rosh Hanikra limestone grotto

Israel is divided east-west by a mountain range running north to south along the coast. Jerusalem sits on the top of this ridge, east of which lies the Dead Sea graben (an elongated, relatively depressed crustal unit bounded by faults on both sides).[9]

The numerous limestone and sandstone layers of the Israeli mountains allow the water to pour from the west flank to the east. Several springs have formed along the Dead Sea, each an oasis, most notably the oases at Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek (Neve Zohar) where settlements have now developed.[9] Israel also has a number of large limestone karsts. The temperature in these caves is 20 °C (68 °F) or thereabouts, although only one is open to the public.[9] Common across the country are small natural caves and abris.[9] These have been used for thousands of years historically as shelter, housing, storage rooms, barns and as places of public gatherings.[9]

The far northern coastline of the country has some chalk landscapes best seen at Rosh HaNikra, a chalk cliff into which a series of grottoes have been eroded.[10]

Rivers and lakes

Route of the Jordan River showing the Sea of Galilee and Dead Sea

Israel's longest and most famous river is the 320 kilometers (199 mi) long River Jordan which rises on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon in the Anti-Lebanon mountains in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.[11] It flows south into the north of, and out of the south of, freshwater Sea of Galilee, then forming the border with the Jordan, eventually emptying into the Dead Sea.[11] The river does flow partly through the West Bank. The tributaries to the Jordan are the Dan, Banias, and Hasbani.[11] Only the Dan spring is within undisputed Israel, with the Hasbani flowing from Lebanon and the Banias from the Golan Heights, disputed between Israel and Syria.[11]

Israel's largest and only notable freshwater lake is the Sea of Galilee (also known as the Kinneret and Lake Tiberias), a pear-shaped lake located in the north-east of the country.[12] The lake is 23 kilometers (14 mi) from north to south, with a maximum width of 13 kilometers (8 mi) in the north.[12] The lake reaches depths of 46 meters (151 ft) and covers 166 square kilometers (64 sq mi).[12] The Sea of Galilee lies 207 meters (679 ft) below sea level.[12] In a previous geological epoch the lake was part of a large inland sea which extended from the Hula marshes in northern Israel to 64 kilometers (40 mi) south of the Dead Sea.[12] The bed of the lake forms part of the Great Rift Valley.[12]

South of the Sea of Galilee lies the saltwater Dead Sea which forms the border between Israel and Jordan and is 418 meters (1,371 ft) below sea level, making it the lowest water surface on Earth.[13] The Dead Sea is 67 kilometers (42 mi) long with a maximum width of 16 kilometers (10 mi) and also makes up part of the Rift Valley.[13] A peninsula juts out into the lake from the eastern shore, south of which the lake is shallow, less than 6 meters (19.7 ft) deep. To the north is the lake's greatest depth.[13]

There are no navigable artificial waterways in Israel although the National Water Carrier, a conduit for drinking water, may be considered to be an artificial waterway. The idea of a channel connecting the Mediterranean and Dead Seas or the Red and Dead Seas has been discussed.[14]

Selected Elevations

The following are selected elevations of notable locations, from highest to lowest:[15]

Location Region Elevation (feet) Elevation (meters)
Mt. Hermon Golan Heights (Israeli-occupied, not part of Israel proper) 7,300 ft. 2,224 m.
Mt. Meron Upper Galilee 3,964 ft. 1,208 m.
Mt. Ramon Negev 3,396 ft. 1,035 m.
Mt. of Olives Jerusalem 2,739 ft. 835 m.
Mt. Tabor Lower Galilee 1,930 ft. 588 m.
Mt. Carmel Haifa 1,792 ft. 546 m.
Dead Sea Judean Desert - 1,368 ft. - 417 m.


Israel has a Mediterranean climate with long, hot, rainless summers and relatively short, cool, rainy winters (Köppen climate classification Csa).[16] The climate is as such due to Israel's location between the subtropical aridity of the Sahara and the Arabian deserts, and the subtropical humidity of the Levant and Eastern Mediterranean.[16] The climate conditions are highly variable within the state and modified locally by altitude, latitude, and the proximity to the Mediterranean.[16]

On average, January is the coldest month with average temperatures ranging from 6 to 15 °C (42.8 to 59 °F), and July and August are the hottest months at 22 to 33 °C (71.6 to 91.4 °F), on average across the country.[16] Summers are very humid along the Mediterranean coast but dry in the central highlands, the Rift Valley, and the Negev Desert. In Eilat, a desert city, summer daytime-temperatures are often the highest in the state, at times reaching 44 to 46 °C (111.2 to 114.8 °F). More than 70% of the average rainfall in Israel falls between November and March; June through September are usually rainless.[16] Rainfall is unevenly distributed, significantly lower in the south of the country.[16] In the extreme south, rainfall averages near 30 millimeters (1.18 in) annually; in the north, average annual rainfall exceeds 900 millimeters (35.4 in).[16] Rainfall varies from season to season and from year to year, particularly in the Negev Desert. Precipitation is often concentrated in violent storms, causing erosion and flash floods.[16] In winter, precipitation often takes the form of snow at the higher elevations of the central highlands, including Jerusalem.[16] The Israeli-occupied Mount Hermon has seasonal snow which covers all three of its peaks for most of the year in winter and spring. The areas of the country most cultivated are those receiving more than 300 millimeters (11.8 in) of rainfall annually, making approximately one-third of the country cultivable.[16]

Thunderstorms and hail are common throughout the rainy season and waterspouts occasionally hit the Mediterranean coast, capable of causing only minor damage. However, supercell thunderstorms and a true F2 tornado hit the Western Galilee in April 2006, causing significant damage and 75 injuries.[17]

Environmental concerns

Israel has a large number of environmental concerns ranging from natural hazards to man-made issues both resulting from ancient times to modern development. Natural hazards facing the country include sandstorms which sometimes occur during spring in the desert south, droughts which are usually concentrated in summer months, flash floods which create great danger in the deserts due to their lack of notice, and regular earthquakes, most of which are small, although there is a constant risk due to Israel's location along the Jordan Rift Valley.[1] Current environmental concerns include the lack of arable land and natural fresh water resources. Whilst measures have been taken to irrigate and grow in the desert, the amount of water needed here poses issues. Desertification is also a risk possible on the desert fringe, whilst air pollution from industrial and vehicle emissions and groundwater pollution from industrial and domestic waste are also issues facing the country.[1] Furthermore, the effects of the use of chemical fertilizers, and pesticides are issues facing the country.[1]

Israel has signed many international environmental agreements and is party to:[1]

Furthermore, the country has signed, but not ratified:

Human geography

Closeup of Israel showing cities and towns

As of 2007, the total population of Israel was 7,184,000.[18] For statistical purposes, the country has three metropolises; Gush Dan-Tel Aviv (population 3,150,000), Haifa (population 996,000), and Beersheba (population 531,600).[19] Some argue that Jerusalem, Israel's largest city with a population of 732,100,[20] and Nazareth,[21] should also be classified as metropolitan areas. In total, Israel has 74 cities, 14 of which have populations of over 100,000. Other forms of local government in Israel are local councils of which there are 144 governing small municipalities generally over 2,000 in population,[22][23] and regional councils of which there are 53, governing a group of small communities over a relatively large geographical area.[22][24]

Israel's population is diverse demographically; 76% Jewish, 20% Arab, and 4% unaffiliated.[25] In terms of religion, 76% are Jewish, 16% Muslim, 2% Christian, 2% Druze, and 4% are unclassified by choice.[26] 8% of Israeli Jews are haredi; 9% are "religious", 12% "religious-traditionalists", 27% are "non-religious traditionalists", and 43% are "secular".[27] Other small, but notable groups in Israel, include Circassians of whom there are approximately 3,000 living mostly in two northern villages, 2,500 Lebanese, and 5,000 Armenians predominantly in Jerusalem.[28][29]

Rural settlements

Israel's rural space includes several unique kinds of settlements, notably the moshav and the kibbutz.[30] Originally these were collective and cooperative settlements respectively.[30] Over time, the degree of cooperation in these settlements has decreased and in several of them the cooperative structure has been dismantled altogether.[30] All rural settlements and many small towns (some of which are dubbed "rurban settlements") are incorporated in regional councils. Land use in Israel is 17% arable land, 4% permanent crops, and 79% other uses.[1] As of 2003 1,940 square kilometers (749 sq mi) were irrigated.[1]

There are 242 Israeli settlements and civilian land use sites in the West Bank, 42 in the Golan Heights, and 29 in East Jerusalem.[1]

Natural resources

Unlike much of the Middle East which is rich in the lucrative natural resource of oil, Israel has a more limited set of natural resources. These include copper, phosphates, bromide, potash, clay, sand, sulfur, asphalt, and manganese.[1] Small amounts of natural gas and crude oil are present, often too little to merit commercial extraction.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u "Israel". CIA World Factbook. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  2. ^ a b c "Israel - Geography". U.S. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  3. ^ Captured in the 1967 Six-Day War and defacto annexed by Israel's Golan Heights Law.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t "Israel Topography". U.S. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  5. ^ a b "The coastal plain". Retrieved 2008-01-26. 
  6. ^ "Makhteshim Country". UNESCO. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g "Israel's Negev Desert". Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c d e "Geology of Israel". Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  10. ^ "Rosh HaNikra". JAFI. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  11. ^ a b c d "River Jordan". Encarta. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f "Lake Tiberias". Encarta. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  13. ^ a b c "Dead Sea". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  14. ^ "Dead Sea Canal". Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  15. ^ Statistical Abstract of Israel, No. 58, 2007
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Climate". U.S. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  17. ^ "'Mini-tornado' sweeps through western Galilee". Ynetnews.,7340,L-3236346,00.html. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  18. ^ "Main Indicators". Central Bureau of Statistics. 2007-09-12. Retrieved 2007-09-18. 
  19. ^ "Localities, Population, and Density". Retrieved 2007-07-02. 
  20. ^ "Jerusalem: From Town to Metropolis". University of Southern Maine. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  21. ^ "Initiated Development in the Nazareth Region". Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  22. ^ a b Mahler, Gregory S.. Politics and Government in Israel: The Maturation of a Modern State. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 229. 
  23. ^ Troen, Selwyn Ilan; Noah Lucas. Israel: The First Decade of Independence. SUNY Press. pp. 496. 
  24. ^ Herzog, Hanna. Gendering Politics: Women in Israel. University of Michigan Press. pp. 22. 
  25. ^ "Population by population group" (PDF). Israel CBS. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  26. ^ "Population by religion" (PDF). Israel CBS. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  27. ^ "Social Survey" (in Hebrew). Israel CBS. 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  28. ^ "Circassians in Israel". Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  29. ^ "The Armenian Quarter". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2008-04-08. 
  30. ^ a b c "Rural Settlement Geography of Israel". Indiana State University. Retrieved 2008-04-07. 


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