Saturday, April 12, 2014

Israel/Palestine: 1. Geography

For the next month this Blog will focus on Israel/Palestine.  We are traveling there with our long time  friends from Seattle, Josh and Pamela Gruber.  It's our first trip, but they are old hands.  Josh had a career with the Jewish Federations of North America, a group of charitable organizations that raise and distribute $3 billion annually, and HIAS which worked with relocating Russian Jews to the U.S., Israel, and other parts of the world.  In these capacities he had many opportunities to visit and meet people from all walks of life.  We'll stay in a Kibbutz in the Jordan Valley and meet Dudu and his tractor.  

The Arabian tectonic plate sits like a shield between the massive Eurasian plate to the north and the African plate to the south and west.  Great rifts along the Red Sea and Persian Gulf allowed the water to rush in.  

Along the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, a sliver of low lying plain clings to the edge of the African plate, the remnant of an ancient seabed.  

Tectonic pressures between the Arabian plate and the African plate raised the Judean hills to 2600 feet, forming the backbone of Israel/Palestine as we find it today. From this ridge of the Judean hills the terrain drops 4,000 feet in 15 miles to the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 1400 feet below sea level.  

From the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley extends north 65 miles to the Sea of Galilee.  To the east a few narrow roads and paths rise sharply up to the plains of Transjordan.

The area from Beersheba on the northern edge of the Negev up to Mount Hermon above the Golan Heights (~150 miles), from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River (~28 miles at the Sea of Galilee; slightly wider in the south) comprises about 6000 square miles.  This is roughly the size of the San Francisco Bay Area from Santa Rosa to Santa Cruz. 

Like a slightly bent index finger, the central mountains touch the Mediterranean at Mt. Carmel by Haifa.  Along the knuckles of this finger lie the Jezreel and Beit She'an valleys connecting the Mediterranean and Jordan River Valley.  In recent geologic times the Mediterranean was connected to the Dead Sea through these valleys, but this connection was lost about two million years ago, when the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River Valley was uplifted.  Today these valleys, along with the upper Jordan River Valley, are fertile and key agricultural areas that account for much of Israel's agricultural production. 

Across the Jezreel and Beit She'an valleys, the Lower Galilee gently rises towards the Upper Galilee and the Lebanon border.  The Jordan River Valley continues north from the Sea of Galilee, gaining 3,000 feet in elevation to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.  To the east of the Sea of Galilee, the terrain rises to 3300 feet and the Golan Heights plateau.  

The Golan Heights Plateau is bordered on the south by the Yarmouk River, which forms the border between Syria and Jordan and flows into the Jordan River just below the Sea of Galilee.  The cool climate, high altitude, and basalt derived soils make the Golan Heights ideal for cultivation of grapes, and today there are a number of wineries located in the Golan Heights.  

 We leave in a week...


  1. The size of Israel relative to um, let's say America is striking. I liked your reference to the Bay Area. It is 146 miles from Jerusalem to Beirut. About the same distance as San Francisco to Fresno. You will love it. It's got it all. History. Geography. Politics. And it's also the ancestral home of Yahweh.