Land of Israel: Geographical Survey
The name Ereẓ Israel (the Land of Israel) designates the land which, according to the Bible was promised as an inheritance to the Israelite tribes. In the course of time it came to be regarded first by the Jews and then also by the Christian world as the national homeland of the Jews and the Holy Land. The concept of ha-Areẓ ("the land") had apparently become permanently rooted in the consciousness of the Jewish people by the end of the Second Temple period, at which time the term Ereẓ Israel also became fixed and its usage widespread. Prior to this there was no name in existence, or at any rate in general use, to denote the land in its entirety. At different periods there were names that designated parts of the country, either alone or together with an adjacent territory; in some periods it was regarded as part of a wider geographical unit.
During the Egyptian Middle Empire and the beginning of the New Empire (up to the 19th Dynasty), Ereẓ Israel together with part of Syria (and the Lebanon) was called Retune (Rtnw). In the New Empire period, especially from the 19th Dynasty (14th–13th centuries b.c.e.) onward, Ereẓ Israel and (central-southern) Syria were referred to as Ḫurru (Ḫùrú) chiefly as an ethnic term, after the Horites who inhabited the country, especially Syria. The term pa-Ḫurru ("[Land of] the Hori[tes]") is still found as late as 238 b.c.e. (Ptolemaic period) in the Greek text of the Canopus inscription as the synonym for "Syria." An additional name employed from the late 14th to the 12th century b.c.e. is P-Kn ʿ n. For two important designations of pre-Israelite Ereẓ Israel, Ereẓ ha-Emori (Land of the Amorites) and Ereẓ Kena'an, see *Amorites, *Canaan, and *Phoenicia.
With the Israelite conquest began an entirely new period in the history of Ereẓ Israel, as is expressed in its names. An early term with a widespread usage is Ereẓ ha-Ivrim ("land of the Hebrews" – Gen. 40:15). Even later writers, especially Josephus and Pausanias (second century c.e.) sometimes employ this term. After the Israelite conquest, the name Canaan became merely an historical concept but many generations passed before the term Ereẓ Israel became standard usage. The expressions "ereẓ bene Israel" ("land of the children of Israel") in Joshua 11:22 and Ereẓ Israel in i Samuel 13:19 refer only to the area inhabited by the Israelites and not to the country as a single geographical entity within its natural boundaries.
Saul, David, and Solomon reigned over the kingdom of Israel, but it is doubtful whether their dominions had an official designation. The biblical references to Ereẓ Israel in the days of David (i Chron. 22:2; ii Chron. 2:16) apparently reflect the later period of their composition. After the first split of the united monarchy early in David's reign, "Judah and Israel" sometimes appear side by side to indicate the territory of all the Israelite tribes, but this expression is also considered an anticipation (Josh. 11:21; ii Sam. 3:10; 5:5; i Kings 4:20; 5:5). With the final division of the kingdom the name Israel was restricted to the area of the kingdom of Ephraim while the kingdom of the Davidic dynasty was known as the land of Judah. The land of Israel mentioned in ii Kings 5:2 refers to the kingdom of all the tribes. In Ezekiel, Gilead and Judah in one reference are explicitly excluded from the territory of Ereẓ Israel; in another Jerusalem, though in Judah, is included in Ereẓ Israel (27:17; 40:2; 47:18).
The shortened form ha-Areẓ is already found in Leviticus 19:23; Joshua 11:23; 12:1; Ezekiel 45:1; Ruth 1:1; but the Mishnah, which also uses it, is the first to employ the term Ereẓ Israel to denote the "land of the children of Israel." After the Assyrian Exile, when the remnants of the people in the country centered in Judah, the name Jew (Yehudi) became a synonym for Israelite and Hebrew (Jer. 34:9). In the post-Exilic period, Judah (Yehud in Aramaic) was the official name of the autonomous area of Jewish settlement and later of the Hasmonean and Herodian kingdoms, even though these extended over a much larger area than that of Judah in the First Temple period. The Persian authorities in their Aramaic documents used the name Yehud and it also appears on coins struck by the province; the Greeks (Iouda, Ioudaia) and the Romans (Judaea) continued it. After the Bar Kokhba War (132–135), the Romans changed its name to Palaestina so as to emphasize that the rebellious Jewish nation had lost its right in its homeland. Coins from the Hasmonean period do not mention Israel but only *Ḥever ha-Yehudim ("Council of the Jews"), which perhaps designates the governing body of the nation and not the territory. On the other hand, coins issued during the Jewish and Bar Kokhba Wars bore the inscription Israel (e.g., "Shekel Yisrael," "Le-Ḥer[ut] Yisrael") but whether this referred to the people or the country is unknown. The name Judah in its broader meaning disappeared almost entirely from Hebrew literature and the Aramaic language and in the end it was replaced by the terms Ereẓ Israel and the Aramaic Ar'a de-Yisra ʾ el and the name Ereẓ Israel entered all the languages spoken by Jews throughout the Diaspora.
The name "*Palestine" was originally an adjective derived from Philistia (Peleshet). It is first mentioned by Herodotus 1.105 in the form Συρία ὴ Παλαιστίνη, i.e., "the Philistine Syria"; it was subsequently shortened, the adjective "Palaistinei" becoming a proper noun. The emperor Hadrian, who applied it to the whole country in order to eradicate the name Judea, revived it and from Byzantine times became the accepted name of Ereẓ Israel in non-Jewish languages. (For fuller details, see *Palestine.) On May 14, 1948, the Jewish-held part of Western Palestine was given the name the "State of Israel" in the declaration of independence promulgated by the People's Council. Transjordan, together with Arab-inhabited parts of Western Palestine, the so-called "West Bank," later became the Hashemite Kingdom of *Jordan, and a strip on the southwestern coast, occupied by Egypt, became known as the *Gaza Strip. The *Six-Day War brought the whole area, including the *Golan Heights, which were captured from Syria, under Israeli control, though only the formerly Jordanian-occupied part of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights were formally annexed by Israel. Internationally, all these areas were commonly referred to as the "occupied territories." On part of them the Palestinians established the *Palestinian Authority, which embraced most of the Gaza Strip and certain areas, including the Arab towns, of the West Bank. The common Israeli terms for these areas are "Judea and Samaria" (Yehudah ve-Shomron) for the West Bank and Ḥevel Aza (the Gaza District) for the Gaza Strip.
[Abraham J. Brawer]
according to bible and talmud
Eretz Israel is an abstract geographical name. Its boundaries were never agreed upon and up today, there are lots of definitions concerning the dispersion of the area. Jewish sources distinguish between three borders of Ereẓ Israel:
(1) "the boundary of the Patriarchs," based on Genesis 15:18–21: "from the river of Egypt (the Nile) unto the great river, the river Euphrates…"; (2) "the boundary of those coming out of Egypt," based on Deuteronomy 1:7–8; 11:24; Joshua 1:4; 13:2–5, which was interpreted as extending from the coastal Galilee (not including Acre-Akko) to the Brook of Egypt (Wadi el-Arish; Tosef., Ter. 2:12; Tosef., Ḥal. 2:11; Git. 8a, et al.); and (3) "the boundary of those returning from Babylonia," within which the halakhic rules for Ereẓ Israel applied, i.e., this is the actual area of Jewish settlement in talmudic times (Tosef., Shev. 4:11; Sif. Deut. 51; tj, Shev. 6:1, 36c). According to this definition, the border extended from the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the western Galilee (south of Acre) to the Golan, continued to the Hauran in the east, followed the desert road down to Amman and Petra, returned to the coast along the Roman limes, excluding the southern coastal cities up to, and excluding, Ashkelon.
The biblical expression "from Dan even to Beer-Sheba" is used in ii Samuel 24:2 and i Kings 5:5 to designate Ereẓ Israel in its limited sense corresponding to the area "from the valley of Arnon unto mount Hermon" in the lands beyond the Jordan (Josh. 12:1). The term Holy Land (Terra Sancta) which is used in Christian sources also never defines the exact limits of this area.
natural features in historical sources
The ancient texts do not mention all of the country's natural geographical features. Those found include the principal rivers of the Coastal Plain, Litas (Egyptian Ntn, cf. Theophanes, Chronography, 6235), Belus (Jos., Wars, 2:189), Kishon (Judg. 5:21; i Kings 18:40), Chorseus (Ptolemy, Geography, 5:14, 3), Shihor-Libnath
(Josh. 19:26), and Yarkon (Josh. 19:46). In the central mountain range, termed the "hill country of Naphtali" (Josh. 20:7), Mts. Tabor and Moreh are prominent landmarks (Josh. 19:22; Judg. 7:1). South of the Jezreel Valley (Judg. 6:33), also known as the "Great Plain" (i Macc. 12:49), are Mt. Carmel, the rosh kadosh ("sacred promontory," as it is already called in inscriptions of Thutmosis iii, c. 1469 b.c.e.) in the west, and Mt. Gilboa in the east (i Sam. 28:4). These mountains are outcrops of Mt. Ephraim (Josh. 17:15) whose most outstanding peaks are Mts. Gerizim and Ebal (Deut. 11:29). Baal-Hazor (ii Sam. 13:23) marks the beginning of the Judean mountains, where the famous Mount of Olives stands (Zech. 14:4). The Sharon and the Shephelah extend to the west of the central mountain range which ends in the Negev (Isa. 65:10; Josh. 9:1; Deut. 1:7). The four main rivers of Ereẓ Israel east of the Jordan are the Hieromices (Yarmuk; Pliny, Natural History, 5:16, 74), Yabbok (Josh. 212:2), Arnon (Deut. 2:24), and the Zered (Num. 21:12), of which the latter two empty into the Dead Sea. The Jordan itself flows through Lake Semechonitis (Lake Ḥuleh, Jos., Wars, 4:3) and Lake Gennesareth or Chinnereth (Num. 34:11 – modern Lake Kinneret) and completes its course in the Salt Sea (Num. 34:3, now known as the Dead Sea) which is also called Lake Asphaltitis (Pliny, Natural History, 5:12, 72; Jos., Wars, 4:476). The term Aravah is applied to the whole of the Jordan Valley and the area south of the Dead Sea (Deut. 1:7; 34:1–3). The latter area is also called the Valley of Salt (ii Sam. 8:13). To the east beyond the Jordan are the mountains of Bashan (Ps. 68:16), Gilead (Gen. 31:25), Seir (Gen. 14:6), and the most prominent – Mt. Nebo (or Pisgah, Deut. 32:48–50; 34:1) from which Moses beheld the Promised Land.
historical boundaries and subdivisions
The earliest complete description of the boundaries of Ereẓ Israel is contained in Numbers 34. Scholars regard this description as
a definition of the limits of the Egyptian province of Canaan as established in the peace treaty between Ramses ii and the Hittites (c. 1270 b.c.e.). The province of Canaan included the entire area west of the Jordan, Phoenicia up to Mt. Hor north of Byblos, and the Bashan, Hauran, and Hermon areas. No subdivisions of this area are known – the system of Canaanite city-states did not lend itself to any clear administrative organization. The next detailed account of the borders appears in Joshua 13–19. Scholars dispute the date of this source and of the various fragments of lists from which it was compiled. It is nevertheless evident from the list of unconquered Canaanite cities in Judges 1:21–35 that the ideal and actual limits of Israelite power did not coincide. The theoretical boundaries extended from Sidon in the north and Lebo-Hamath in the northeast to the Brook of Egypt and the Negev in the south and included east of the Jordan the Bashan and Hauran, and Gilead and Moab down to the Arnon. In actual fact, however, the area occupied by the Israelite tribes before the time of David was limited to the mountains of Galilee and Ephraim, Judah to the southern end of the Dead Sea, and most of the area between the Yarmuk and the Arnon, excluding Ammon. In the Coastal Plain Israelite control was tenuous and Canaanite enclaves in the Jezreel Valley and around Jerusalem virtually cut Israelite territory into three separate parts. South of Jaffa the entire Coastal Plain remained the domain of the Philistines who threatened to encroach on the territory held by the Israelites.
The lands of the tribes were divided as follows: the Bilhah tribes, Dan and Naphtali, held eastern Galilee (Dan being a latecomer to the area after an unsuccessful attempt to take possession of part of the Shephelah west of Jerusalem); three tribes of the Leah-Zilpah group, Issachar, Asher, and Zebulun, settled western and southern Galilee; the central group of tribes, the House of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) together with the allied Benjamite tribe – all three of the Rachel group – occupied the hill country from Jerusalem to the Jezreel Valley, with Manasseh overspilling into Issachar and east of the Jordan (Josh. 17:11; Judg. 1:27; Num. 32:33); the
southern group included the Leah tribes of Judah, centered upon Hebron, and the weak tribe of Simeon on the borders of the Negev; Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh occupied the lands east of the Jordan with Reuben subject to Gad as was Simeon to Judah.
From the time of King David onward, the ideal borders of Ereẓ Israel came much closer to realization. According to the Bible, David closed the gaps dividing the tribes by conquering Jerusalem, the Jezreel Valley, and the coastal area between Jaffa and Acre. Jerusalem, originally within Benjamin, was made a royal domain outside the tribal system. David, moreover, subdued all the lands up to Lebo-Hamath, annexed Ammon, Moab, and Edom (thereby reaching the Arabah and the Red Sea) and dominated the kings of Hamath and the Philistines by means of vassal treaties. David's kingdom thus extended from the Brook of Egypt to Tiphsah on the Euphrates, although not all his entire domain was regarded as Ereẓ Israel proper. He established a network of levitical cities to serve as administrative centers uniting the kingdom. Solomon reorganized the kingdom into 12 districts (excluding Judah), unequal in size, but equal in economic importance. Each district was to supply his court with its needs during one month of the year. Some of these districts were identical with the old tribal areas while others were new units. According to i Kings 4:7–19, the districts included:
- Mount Ephraim;
- Makaz (from Beth-Shemesh to the coast);
- Hepher (the Sharon coast);
- Dor and its region;
- Jezreel Valley;
- northern Gilead;
- southern Gilead (Mahanaim);
Judah's exclusion from this tax-paying area was one of the causes of the subsequent split of the monarchy. As to the external boundaries of the kingdom, Solomon gained Gezer, but gave Cabul to Hiram of Tyre as well as *Aram-Damascus, which deprived him of access to the Euphrates.
With the division of the monarchy under Rehoboam, the northern kingdom of Israel consisted of Ephraim, Galilee, Gilead, and the rest of Israelite territory east of the Jordan. The southern kingdom of Judah retained Benjamin. The subject areas of Ammon, Moab, and Edom soon liberated themselves from the overlordship of weakened Israel and Judah. Apart from some futile attempts by Abijah of Judah to advance into Israel (c. 911 b.c.e.) and of Baasha of Israel to push the frontier closer to Jerusalem, the boundaries of the two kingdoms remained fairly stable. Their external borders, however, changed according to the vicissitudes of their power. On the northern front the house of Omri, and of Ahab in particular, waged several wars with Aram-Damascus and in the
end lost Ramoth-Gilead (c. 850 b.c.e.). With the weakening of Aram under Assyrian pressure, *Jehoash and Jeroboam ii (c. 790–770) advanced to Damascus and Lebo-Hamath, almost restoring the boundaries of David. Moab was definitely lost to Mesha in approximately 855 b.c.e. In Judah, Asa or Jehoshaphat (c. 860 b.c.e.) advanced to Elath, which, together with Edom, was later lost but reconquered in the days of Uzziah (c. 750 b.c.e.) who also extended the frontier of the Judahite monarchy in the direction of Philistia (ii Chron. 26:6). As to the internal administration of the two kingdoms, the capital of Israel was first at Shechem, then – perhaps already under Jeroboam in the tenth century b.c.e. – at Tirzah, and from
the time of Omri (882–871 b.c.e.) at Samaria. Ostraca found at Samaria provide information on the division of the kingdom into districts in the eighth century b.c.e. The division of the Judahite monarchy into 12 districts is preserved in Joshua 15:21–62; 18:25–28. From the eighth century onward, the Assyrians began reducing the boundaries of Israel. In 732 b.c.e.
Tiglath-Pileser iii captured Galilee and Gilead, leaving only Samaria to Israel. In the conquered territory he established the Assyrian provinces of Megiddo, Dor, Karnaim, Hauran, and Gilead. Sargon ii (722–705 b.c.e.) conquered the rest of the Northern Kingdom (721 b.c.e.) and Philistia and organized them into two additional provinces: Samaria and Ashdod. Assyria's decline in the seventh century enabled Josiah of Judah (639–609 b.c.e.) once again to extend the rule of the Davidic dynasty over most of Samaria and Galilee, but the Babylonian conquest in 587 b.c.e. brought about the final downfall of Judah. The Babylonians diminished its borders and established an additional province in Edom south of Judah.
After the establishment of Persian rule (539 b.c.e.) all of Ereẓ Israel was included in its fifth satrapy called ʿ Abarnaharah ("beyond the river," i.e., the Euphrates). Its satrap residing at Damascus had under his control the various provinces as inherited from the Assyrians and Babylonians. The province of Judah (officially called Yehud) extended from Beth-El in the north to Beth-Zur in the south and from Emmaus and Keilah in the west to the Jordan in the east. The province was subdivided into six districts (called pelekh in Hebrew), each with a capital and subcapital. These included Jerusalem with Netophah as its subcapital in the center of Judah; Beth-Cherem (Ein Kerem) in the west Zanoah as its subcapital, Keilah with Adullam in the southwest; Beth-Zur with Tekoa in the south; Jericho with Hassenaah in the east; Mizpah (Tell en-Nasbeh) with Gibeon in the north. The Persians continued the Babylonian provinces but added the province of Ammon which was administered by the Jewish Tobiad family (see *Tobias). The coastal area was divided between the Phoenician cities Tyre and Sidon.
The Hellenistic conquest (332 b.c.e.) did not alter the country's internal subdivision for the time being. The Ptolemies, kings of Egypt, who ruled the whole of Ereẓ Israel from 301 to 198 b.c.e., granted autonomy to the coastal cities and gave Greek names to various cities (e.g., Acre became Ptolemais, Rabbath-Ammon became Philadelphia, etc.). The Tobiads were restricted to the Western part of their district. All of Ereẓ Israel was administered from Alexandria. When the Seleucid monarchy under Antiochus iii conquered Ereẓ Israel, larger units, eparchies, were established, each of which included several smaller districts or hyparchies. Thus Samaria now ruled over Judea and Galilee and Perea of the Tobiads. Idumea remained a separate district, the coastal cities were joined into one district, and Paralia and all the lands east of the Jordan were combined into Galaaditis, except for Perea. The Seleucids, who were energetic Hellenizers, particularly Antiochus iv (175–164 b.c.e.), founded many Greek poleis, such as Scythopolis (Beth-Shean), Pella, Gerasa, Gadara, and Hippus. Samaria had been a Macedonian colony since the time of Alexander.
The main events in the period between the outbreak of the Hasmonean revolt (167 b.c.e.) and the death of Alexander Yannai (76 b.c.e.) were the expansion of the Jewish state, paralleled by the disintegration of Seleucid rule. In 147 b.c.e. Jonathan, the first ruler of the Hasmonean dynasty, received Ekron and the three districts of Lydda, Arimathea, and Aphaerema. Some time before 144 b.c.e. he was also ceded Perea. His brother Simeon (142–135 b. c.e.) annexed Jaffa and Gezer, thus open the sea for his state. Simeon's son John Hyrcanus i (135–104 b.c.e.) extended his sway over Idumea, Samaria, Scythopolis, and the inner Carmel, as well as Heshbon and Medeba east of the Jordan. Judah Aristobulus I, the son of Hyrcanus, who barely reigned one year, added Galilee. The last of the conquering Hasmoneans, Alexander Yannai (103–76 b.c.e.), captured the whole coast from Rhinocorura (El-Arish) on the Brook of Egypt to the Carmel promontory, all of Western Gilead from Paneas (Banias) to Gerasa, and all the lands around the Dead Sea. Only Acre-Ptolemais, Philadelphia, and Ascalon remained outside his rule, the last with Yannai's consent. In their internal organization of the state, the Hasmoneans preserved the basic subdivision – toparchy – of which there were 24, corresponding to the 24 ma'amadot (literally, "place of standing") of the Temple service. They also followed Ptolemaic practice by establishing a larger administrative unit called meris, and divided the country into five of them: Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Idumea, and Perea.
Roman intervention under Pompey put an end to the expansion of the Hasmonean State. Under Pompey's settlement of 63 b.c.e. the Jewish State was reduced to Judea, including Idumea and Perea, and to Galilee. The Greek cities conquered by the Hasmoneans were "freed." Those cities along the coast were placed under the supervision of the Roman governor of Syria and those east of the Jordan were united into a league of ten cities, known as the Decapolis. The Samaritans regained their independence, the Itureans obtained the Golan and Paneas, and the Nabateans, the Negev and the lands around the Dead Sea. Pompey's harsh arrangements were somewhat alleviated by Julius Caesar, who in 47 b.c.e. restored Jaffa and the Plain of Jezreel to Judea. When Herod replaced the Hasmonean dynasty in 40 b.c.e., he was given, in addition to the lands held by Mattathias Antigonus, the last Hasmonean ruler, the region of Marisa and the lands of the Samaritans. In 30 b.c.e. Augustus granted him the coastal area from Gaza to Caesarea (originally called Straton's Tower) as well as Samaria (renamed Sebaste), Gadara, and Hippus in the interior. In 23 b.c.e. Herod received Batanea (Bashan), Trachonitis, and the Hauran, and in 20 b.c.e. Augustus finally added Paneas and the Gaulan. Herod's kingdom was administered on a dual basis: the Greek cities were more or less autonomous, while the remainder, the "King's country," was ruled directly by royal officials. Herod retained the division into merides and toparchies. Two lists of his toparchies have been preserved: one by Pliny (Natural History, 5:15, 70) who enumerates them as follows:
- Joppa (Jaffa);
- Betholeptephene (Beit Nattif);
- Orine (Jerusalem);
To this list Josephus adds Idumea, En-Gedi, and Jamnia (Wars, 3: 54–55). After Herod's death (4 b.c.e.) his kingdom was divided among his three sons. Archelaus received Judea, Idumea, Samaria, and Caesarea; Herod Antipas received Galilee and Perea; Philip received Caesarea Philippi and the lands east of the Jordan. The Greek cities were placed under the governor of Syria. When Archelaus was deposed in 6 c.e., his lands were administered by a Roman procurator. This was the situation in Jesus' time. After the death of Philip, his nephew Agrippa i received his inheritance, to which were added the lands of Antipas in 39 c.e., and in 41 c.e. also those of Archelaus. When Agrippa i died in 44 c.e., part of his kingdom was reserved for his son Agrippa ii (Philip's share and eastern Galilee) but most of it was administered by Roman procurators up to the Jewish War (66–73).
After the siege and destruction of Jerusalem, the Provincia Judaea was under the rule of Roman governors. Urbanization progressed rapidly in the following centuries. Vespasian turned the lands of the Samaritans into the city of Neapolis; Hadrian set up Aelia Capitolina on the ruins of Jerusalem; Septimius Severus turned Lydda into Diospolis and Bet Guvrin into Eleutheropolis until finally only Upper Galilee, the Gaulan and, and the Jordan Valley remained non-urban areas. Under Diocletian (284) the southern part of the Roman province of Arabia was attached to the province of Palaestina, which was partitioned in Byzantine times. In 358 the Negev and southern Transjordan were detached and formed into Palaestina Salutaris. In approximately 400 the remainder was subdivided into Palaestina Prima (with its capital at Caesarea) and Palaestina Secunda (with its capital at Scythopolis) and the third province, Palaestina Salutaris, was now called Palaestina Tertia; its governor resided in Petra.
This threefold division continued under the Arabs who conquered the area in the 7th century: Palaestina Prima became Jund Filastīn, Palaestina Secunda, Jund al-Urdunn, and Palaestina Tertia was abandoned to the Bedouins. The province of Filastīn was administered from the new city of Ramleh and Urdunn from Tiberias. The Crusaders who came in 1099 first established themselves on the coast and to the west of the Jordan; at the zenith of their power their kingdom (the Kingdom of Jerusalem) included all of Ereẓ Israel west of the Jordan to Deir el-Balah, the Jordan Valley, and the Seir Mountains down to Elath. Their feudal administration was centered on a royal domain around Jerusalem with royal vassals in the rest of the country: the principality of Galilee, the seigniories of Jaffa and Ashkelon, Caesarea, St. Jean d'Acre (Acre), Naples (Nablus), St. Abraham (Hebron), Toron (northern Galilee), and Outre Jourdain. After the debacle at the hands of Saladin in 1187, Richard the Lion-Hearted in 1192 reconstituted the Crusader kingdom along the coast from Jaffa to Tyre and included western Galilee. In 1228 Frederick ii added a corridor to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and Richard of Cornwall (1240/41) added the area southward to Ashkelon and Beit Guvrin and eastward to the Jordan near Jericho and in Galilee. From 1250 the kingdom gradually shrank under Mamluk attacks which finally led to the capture of Acre, the Crusader capital, in 1291. The Mamluks (1250–1516) divided Ereẓ Israel into a number of "mamlakas": Ghazza (coast); Safed (Galilee); Dimashq (Damascus; Samaria, Judea, northern Transjordan); and el-Kerak (southern Transjordan). Under the Turks, who took over the country in 1517, a Wali (governor) at Acre ruled from the Carmel to Galilee, while his colleagues at Esh-Sham (Damascus) held the rest of Ereẓ Israel, which was subdivided into the sanjaks of Nablus (including Al-Salt), Al-Quds (Jerusalem), Gaza, Hauran, and Kerak. From 1874 Jerusalem with southern Judea was administered directly from Constantinople as a separate sanjak or mutessarifliq. The Turks reestablished their rule over the Negev, but in 1906 the British, who ruled Egypt from 1882, forced them to cede the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. The British, who took over Palestine in 1917, were the first to establish it as a modern political entity with clear boundaries. The Zionist Organization requested a more extensive area, including the lower Litani River and Mt. Hermon in the north, a line just west of the Hejaz Railway in the east, and a line running from Aqaba to El Arish in the southwest. The British, in agreement with the French, established a boundary which ran from Ras el Naqura between Acre and Tyre on the Mediterranean shore to Metullah and then to El Hama, east of the Sea of Galilee. In the east the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, and the Arava Valley marked the boundary line, while in the south the British adopted the 1906 line between Egypt and the Ottoman Empire. Thus the Mandatory area of Palestine (from which Transjordan was detached in 1922) extended from Dan (Metullah) to Umm Rashrash (today Eilat), and from the Mediterranean coast at Ras en-Naqura to the sources of the Jordan River. This area is seen today by most people dealing with the area as Palestine or Ereẓ Israel. During the 30 years of the British Mandate, the subdivision of the country varied from six districts to two (with a separate Jerusalem division). In 1946, at the end of the Mandate, there were six: Galilee, Haifa, Samaria, Jerusalem, Gaza, and "Lydda," so called because, although it contained the largest city in Ereẓ Israel – Tel Aviv – the Mandatory officials refused to honor it with the name of a district.
From 1949 to 1967 the State of Israel was bounded by the lines of the Armistice Agreements (the "Green Line"). The Six-Day War established ceasefire lines on the Suez Canal, along the Jordan River, and east of the Golan. These lines were partially changed after the *Yom Kippur War of 1973. As stipulated by the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt (1979), both countries accepted the Mandatory line (Rafah – Taba) as the international boundary between them. The peace treaty between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (1994) also adopted the Mandatory line, with some modifications, as the international boundary. (See also Israel, State of: Historical Survey below.)
The earliest inhabitants of Ereẓ Israel of whom there is historical documentation are the West Semitic tribes known as Amurru (Amorites). In the Bible they are subdivided into a large number of groups, known collectively as Canaanites, a name properly belonging to the Phoenicians. In the Bronze Age, peoples of Indo-Aryan origin (Hittites and Mitanni) became the rulers of various cities in Ereẓ Israel. The Israelite conquest and the Philistine entrenchment on the southern coast (c. 1200 b.c.e.) produced a change in the population balance. The Canaanites were gradually absorbed by the Semitic Israelites, while the Philistines retained their separate character. The Assyrian deportations created a new mixed element, the Samaritans, in Mt. Ephraim. Under Babylonian rule, the Edomites settled in southern Judea, the Nabateans occupied the Negev and southern Transjordan, and a remnant of Jews clung to Jerusalem. In Persian times Jews returned from captivity in Babylonia and the Phoenicians and some Greek settlers inhabited the coast. Hellenistic rule brought an influx of Greeks as officials, soldiers, merchants, and estate owners and the coastal areas and part of the inland cities became Hellenized. At that time there was an overspill of Jews northward into Samaria and eastward into Perea. The Hasmoneans made the Idumeans (Edomites) and the Galileans assimilate with the Jews. During Herod's rule Jewish settlements in northern Transjordan expanded, while a sprinkling of Romans and Greeks settled in Judea and Galilee. After the Bar Kokhba War, the Jews were expelled from Judea and replaced by Syrian and Arab colonists; Galilee, however, remained Jewish up to the end of Byzantine times.
Arabs gradually began to infiltrate into Ereẓ Israel in the late Byzantine period, even before the Arab conquest. After their conquest the Christians in the country slowly became Islamized. The Crusader period brought an incursion of West Europeans, mainly French, Normans, and Italians, but they were unable to root themselves in the country and withdrew after the Crusader collapse. From the ninth century onward, Seljuk, Kurdish, and Turkish mercenaries settled in the country, remaining its rulers until the World War i. The German Templars resumed European colonization on a small scale in the late 19th century, and many other Europeans and Americans settled in the cities in that period for religious or commercial reasons. The Jews, who had clung to the "Four Holy Cities" (Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias, and Hebron) and were reinforced from time to time by newcomers from Europe and the Ottoman Empire, began to expand their settlement from 1878 onward, assisted first by the Rothschilds and later by the Zionist Organization. From a population of 55,000 in 1918 they increased to 5.5 million in 2003, mostly by immigration from Eastern and Central Europe, Asia, and North Africa.
For natural boundaries, see Israel, Land of: *Physiography.
Abel, Geog; Aharoni, Land; idem, Carta Atlas of the Bible (20044); Y. Aharoni and M. Avi-Yonah, Macmillan Bible Atlas (19923); Avi-Yonah, Land; Avi-Yonah, Geog; G. Le Strange, Palestine under the Moslems (1890); Neubauer, Geog; Press, Ereẓ; G.A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (18964); P. Thomsen, Loca Sancta (1907).
[Michael Avi-Yonah /
Gideon Biger (2nd ed.)]
(Official transliteration of place-names can be found in The New Israel Atlas; 1969.) Despite its historical origin and usage, the name Ereẓ Israel (Land of Israel) may very appropriately be applied to designate a major regional entity within the Fertile Crescent, wedged between the Mediterranean on the west and the Syrian and Arabian Deserts on the east and southeast. Throughout historical and very likely also prehistorical times, this area served as a bridge between adjacent African and Asian regions. It is adequately defined by "natural boundaries," i.e., major physiographical features beyond which relief configuration or climatic conditions and associated surface phenomena change markedly, as postulated by regional geography for the concept of a major unit of the earth's surface. The region is distinctively delimited on the west by the vast expanse of the Levantine Basin of the Mediterranean. Moreover, along this particular section of the coastline there are no islands, which could complicate proper delineation. Similarly, the coast of Eilat, by which Ereẓ Israel has access to the Indian Ocean, clearly demarcates the maximum extension toward the south. On the east, northeast, southeast, and southwest, Ereẓ Israel is bounded by extensive tracts of the great global, subtropical desert belt (Syrian Desert, Arabian Desert, and Sinai Desert). The marginal areas of this desert belt, in which the climatic conditions undergo a change from semiarid to fully arid, form the historical border zone of Ereẓ Israel as well. In the Sinai Peninsula, the Negev plains continue without interruption up to the Wadi el-Arish, the Brook of Egypt according to the tradition. To the east, an adequate, though not continuous, delineation is afforded by a watershed zone between rivers west and east of it. Although it is not a prominent relief feature, this zone also denotes a sort of a border between the semiarid and Mediterranean areas to the west and the arid ones to the east. The northern boundaries of Ereẓ Israel are fairly well defined. There the valley of Qasimiye – the lower course of the Leontes (Litani) River – and, further east, the towering Hermon Massif form a marked natural boundary between Ereẓ Israel and the Lebano-Syrian region.
Ereẓ Israel, however, is not considered a regional entity merely because of its natural confines. These are mainly concomitant consequences of the fact that the area is morphogenetically a very consistent surface unit in almost all its physiographical aspects. The area is decidedly influenced by a singular major phenomenon: the Jordan-Dead Sea-Arabah Rift Valley, which also forms the meridional axis of Ereẓ Israel along its entire length. The morphogenetic impact of the Rift Valley is outwardly expressed by the main drainage pattern of the region. About 70% of Ereẓ Israel's rivers (and far more of its overall runoff, if the quantities of the inflow are considered) discharge into the Rift Valley, in relation to which the areas with river outlets into the Mediterranean form a sort of foreland. From the hydrographical point of view alone, Ereẓ Israel thus represents primarily the catchment area of the Rift Valley, which, within this region, is characterized by some unique topographical features. It is the deepest continental depression on the earth and contains an inland sea (the Dead Sea) whose level is about 1,300 ft. (400 m.) lower than that of the Mediterranean with one of the highest mineral contents of any body of water in the world. Its second large body of water is Lake Kinneret, which is the lowest freshwater body on the earth's surface, about 660 ft. (200 m.) below sea level. The two bodies of water are connected by a river (Jordan River) whose bed, accordingly, is the lowest in the world. This hydrographical condition, namely the predominance of the endoreic area (i.e., an area without outlet into an ocean or a major body of water connected with it), is only one of the many influences exerted by the formation of the Rift Valley upon almost all of the surface configuration of Ereẓ Israel.
From the anthropogeographical point of view, however, the Rift Valley has proven a rather disuniting element. Due to its relative depth, and still more to the height and steepness of the mountain slopes ascending from it to highlands more than 3,300 ft. (1,000 m.) above its floor, enclosing it wall-like with a single wider breach giving access to it only from the west, the Rift Valley was throughout history one of the main factors for the division of the region into two parts, very infrequently – and then only partially – united into a single state. The Rift Valley is thus the prime cause of Ereẓ Israel's subdivision into two main parts: a western one – Mediterranean-oriented Cisjordan (referred to as western Palestine in political and historical geography) – and an eastern one – Transjordan (eastern Palestine). The first may be regarded from the geographic point of view as the mainland, the second as the backland of the entire region.
Situated between the Mediterranean on the west and an almost continuous desert belt on the south and east, and being long and relatively narrow – about 280 mi. (450 km.) in length and about 110 mi. (180 km.) at maximum width – Ereẓ Israel also morphogenetically represents a transition zone. It contains almost all the major relief elements characteristic of the adjacent countries, although generally on a much smaller scale and in somewhat subdued form; coastal plains; mountain ranges, partly continuing the systems of folds fully developed and culminating in Lebanon-Syria and Asia Minor; plateaus, much smaller and more discontinuous here than in the neighboring countries; and basins of all kinds, most of which are greatly affected by and subordinated to the dominant relief feature – the Rift Valley. The same is true of lithological conditions. Outcrops of most kinds of rocks, from basement (magmatic, metamorphic) to sedimentary ones of most recent ages, form its bedrock. Volcanic rocks (basalts, tuffs) are also widely distributed there, as are evaporites (i.e., sediments mainly generated by deposition in outletless inland seas given to intensive evaporation and thus to concentration and consequent consolidation of their solutional contents).
Located between the Mediterranean and the deserts, Ereẓ Israel exhibits complex climatic gradations and transitions ranging from conditions mainly influenced by the sea and manifested primarily by the amount of precipitation to those which already show all the characteristics of a fully desert region – manifested, inter alia, by the relatively extensive surfaces composed of evaporites. A most important characteristic of the region, and particularly of Cisjordan, is therefore the proximity of greatly differing landscapes within relatively small areas resulting mainly from the structural, lithological, and climatic conditions changing over very small distances. The region's very mosaic-like quality is also crucially important as physiographical background to its history, illuminating, e.g., the tendency to regional particularism throughout the area. Notwithstanding the great number of small, highly different regions, it is customary to subdivide Ereẓ Israel into only four major units: (1) the Coastal Plains, (2) the Western Mountain Zone, (3) the Rift Valley, and (4) the Transjordan Plateau.
the coastal plains
The Coastal Zone.
Ereẓ Israel is bordered on the west by the Mediterranean Sea. The length of its coastline is about 170 mi. (270 km.) from the mouth of Wadi el-Arish to that of the Qasimiye River. From the morphogenetic and typological points of view, the coast of Ereẓ Israel represents a transition between the coasts of Egypt and Sinai, which are mainly deltaic, and the Lebano-Syrian coast, whose configuration is primarily determined by faulting. The coast of Ereẓ Israel is fairly smooth, without any islands representing detached parts of the mainland. A shelf zone, relatively wide at the southern portion and progressively narrower toward the north, extends along the coast up to about 500 ft. (150 m.) in depth. The coastal zone (i.e., the areas adjacent to the coastline that are directly influenced by the sea) consists of two main parts: a rather uniform southern part, extending from the mouth of the Wadi el-Arish to Tel Aviv-Jaffa, and a northern one that extends up to the mouth of the Qasimiye River. The northern part is far more complex in its origin and consequently in its outline. The southern part of the coastline is almost straight, and its course accords with that of the series of anticlines that form the mountainous backbone of Cisjordan. Sandy beaches, attaining several hundreds of meters in width, extend along the coastline, broken only at the alluviafilled valley-exits of the rivers discharging into the Mediterranean. Breaks also occur at four other spots: Deir al-Balah, a portion of the coast south of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Mīnat Rūbīn (south of the mouth of the valley of the River Sorek), where coastal cliffs border almost immediately on the sea. The beaches are covered almost exclusively by quartz sands brought from the Nile delta and from the coast of Sinai by currents running close to the shore. Inland, the beach zone is delimited mainly by low ridges composed of sand grains cemented by calcareous material – a rock type called kurkar in the vernacular – and passes into areas covered by shifting dunes. The sands of these dunes are mainly of marine origin, i.e., they were brought to the coast by shore currents and waves and then transported inland by winds. The width of the sanddune belt varies considerably; it attains its maximum – about 4.5 mi. (7 km.) – in the vicinity of Rishon le-Zion.
The northern coastal zone is rather different, in some aspects even opposite, in configuration. It is no longer straight throughout, but indented at some sections by small embayments, several of which form coves (e.g., at Dor and Athlit). Off-branchings of the inland mountains, the Carmel and the Hanitah Range (Rosh ha-Nikrah), border immediately upon the sea, forming high and steep headlands, north of which the coastline recesses to form wide embayments. Only the first of these, at Haifa, represents a true bay, extending southeast for about 4 mi. (6 km.) and even forming a small secondary bay at its northern extremity at Acre. The rest of the northern coastline is bordered along its entire length by cliffs of kurkar. These cliffs are high as far north as Athlit – attaining a maximum height of about 130 ft. (40 m.) in the vicinity of Netanyah – and then becoming progressively lower. A very discontinuous small abrasion platform, i.e., a rocky, narrow shore-plane generated by progressive down-and-back erosion of the cliff faces, extends along the greater part of the coast. Waves undercut the cliffs at their bases, and as the cliffs are worn back, their bases form a progressively widening plane. The seaward parts of the platform, subject to the continuous and generally very intensive impact of the waves, in turn gradually become destroyed, with only small isolated remains – reefs – evidencing the earlier extension of the coast 1.2–1.8 mi. (2–3 km.) west of its present course. Beaches are very poorly developed along this northern portion of the coast zone. They exist mostly around coastal indentations or along the bases of cliffs, where they are somewhat protected against the onslaught of waves by an outlying strip of reefs close to the shore or tiers of beachrock (i.e., coarse sands, pebbles, and shells cemented into rocks). Areas of sand dunes are small and can be found only where the valleys of rivers discharging into the Mediterranean breach the cliffs, creating sufficiently wide gaps for the landward intrusion of wind-borne sands accumulating on the shore. Thus only at the bay of Haifa are beach and dune areas fully developed.
The Coastal Plains
In the narrow sense, the Coastal Plains are lowlands covered mainly by alluvial soils that extend from the coastal dune areas and the coastal cliff zone, respectively, to the bases of the inland mountains. The plains exhibit a large number of minor relief features, particularly isolated hillocks or those forming small ridges composed of kurkar and a fairly well-developed drainage net, which is more dense toward the north and sometimes exhibits minute gorge-like valleys where traversing the kurkar ridges. The ridges extend without a major break from the mouth of Wadi el-Arish to the headland of the Carmel, and from there to the Rosh ha-Nikrah promontory, recurring on a very small scale as far as the valley of the Qasimiye River. From the earliest times the Coastal Plains were one of the most densely populated and intensively cultivated parts of the country, although secondary in historical importance to the mountainous interior regions. They may be rather arbitrarily subdivided into seven units: the Southern Plains (frequently referred to as the Negev Plains); the Judean Plain (including the Philistine Plain as its southern part); the Sharon; the Carmel Coast Plain (usually referred to only as Carmel Coast); the Haifa (Zebulun) Plain; the Galilean Plain (Acre Plain); the Tyre Plain, north of the cape of Rosh ha-Nikrah. Each of the last three units is usually referred to in Hebrew as emek, i.e., valley or narrow lowland, because of their limited width.
The Southern Coastal Plains
These plains are separated from the Mediterranean by a relatively narrow belt of sand dunes, 2 mi. (3 km.) wide on the average. Their most important characteristics are determined by climatic conditions. They receive the smallest amount of precipitation in comparison with the other units of the Coastal Plains – El-Arish, approximately 8 in. (200 mm.); Gaza, somewhat less than 16 in. (400 mm.). Due to its proximity to the desert areas, the soils of this plain are composed predominantly of wind-borne loess, probably redistributed by surface flow, and exhibit many intermixing gradations with sands in the southern parts of the plains and with the red-sand soils (called ḥamra in the vernacular) at its northern limits. Only two main ephemeral streams (Naḥal Besor and Naḥal Shikmah), about 12 mi. (20 km.) apart at their debouchures into the Mediterranean, traverse the region. Naḥal Besor and its tributaries have turned part of the loess zone into spectacular "badlands," i.e., intensively dissected surfaces that form a microrelief landscape of miniature hillocks and gullies of the most variegated shapes.
Three major topographical zones may be distinguished more or less parallel to the coast. East of the coastal sands, where some dunes attain heights of several tens of meters, a relatively low zone extends, delimited to some extent by discontinuous kurkar ridges. This zone forms a gradual ascent to a hillock region in the east and to relatively large areas covered by inland sands of eolian origin in the southeast. Because of its narrowness, elongated shape, and low topography (in comparison with the bordering zones), this area is frequently referred to in the regional geography of Ereẓ Israel as the marzevah ("corridor"). This is also a major topographical feature on the plains farther north and had a decisive influence in the past on the sites of settlements and communication lines (Via Maris).
Rather wide in its southern part – about 15 mi. (25 km.) – the Judean Plain narrows progressively toward the north – about 10 mi. (17 km.), a characteristic common to all the plain regions described below. The plain is separated from the sea by a dune belt, which attains its maximum width – about 4 mi. (7 km.) – here. The "corridor" between the sand zone and the base of the hill country to the east of the plain (the "Shephelah") is more distinct and forms a fairly uniform surface with far fewer and smaller remains of kurkar ridges than are found in the Negev Plain. Climatic conditions are fully Mediterranean – 16–20 in. (400–500 mm.) annual average precipitation – and are reflected in the soil cover – loess in the southernmost part and ḥamra covering almost the whole remaining area with rather large enclaves of heavy soils of alluvial and swamp origin. The genesis of the latter types of soil is connected with the greater number of rivers draining the plain. Although only four of these rivers reach the sea, their courses are frequently deflected to run meridionally by the extension, width, and continuity of the dune belts.
Lengthwise, the Sharon Plain extends from the Yarkon, the largest river in Cisjordan discharging into the Mediterranean, up to the Zikhron Ya'akov spur of Mount Carmel. Its width varies considerably, generally narrowing northward to a minimum of about 2½ mi. (4 km.). It also exhibits a distinct meridional zonation, far more pronounced than that of the Judean Plain. Dune areas between the sea and the plain proper, as mentioned before, are rather sporadic there, narrow and short, and restricted to the cliffless parts of the coast, i.e., to the vicinity of the river exits into the sea. Elsewhere, the plain begins immediately behind the zone of the cliffs, which attain considerable height and are continuous, thus preventing the ingress and accumulation of sand further inland. More or less parallel to the sea cliffs appear two major, though discontinuous, closely spaced kurkar ridges which indicate the former coastline. Between them are situated elongated and narrow lowlands, of which only the eastern one attains a width of about 2 mi. (3 km.), whereas the western one is much narrower. East from the kurkar ridge zone the "corridor" extends up to the outliers of the Samarian Highland. In contrast to the two above-mentioned intermediate areas between the kurkar ridges, with their prevailing ḥamra cover, the soil of the "corridor" is mainly alluvial. The amount of precipitation is approximately 4 in. (100 mm.) greater than in the Judean Plain, exceeding an annual average of 24 in. (600 mm.) in some places. This was one of the main preconditions for the large forested areas characteristic of the Sharon in the past. The river network is relatively dense, with far more rivers discharging into the sea than on the Judean Plain. The exits of the rivers here have also been largely blocked both by the dune areas and the kurkar ridges. Consequently, large tracts of the Sharon became swampy, particularly in the environs of Ḥaderah and the Ḥefer Plain (the latter was drained by Jewish settlers only in the 1930s).
Carmel Coast Plain
About 22 mi. (35 km.) long, 2–2.5 mi. (3–4 km.) wide at its southern end and a few hundred meters wide at its northern limit, the Carmel Coast Plain ends prominently at the Carmel Headland. The shape of this land unit would fully justify the omission of the term "plain" or even "valley" in its usual meaning. Like the Sharon, a considerable part of this plain consists of kurkar ridges, the westernmost of which is almost entirely transformed by marine erosion and ingression into reefs and abrasion platforms and is mainly characterized by several kinds of indentations, including some coves and minute headlands. The other two ranges of kurkar ridges are still preserved, particularly in the southern portion, and greatly impede the passage of the numerous streamlets descending from the Carmel, so that in the past artificial outlets had to be cut into the ridges. Another characteristic of this plain is the relative scarcity of ḥamra in comparison with the alluvial soils that are derived mainly from Mount Carmel by erosion and river deposition.
Haifa Bay Plain
Tectonically, this plain represents the westernmost component of the Beth-Shean–Harod–Jezreel Valley system that traverses the entire width of Cisjordan from the Jordan Rift Valley to the Mediterranean. Flanked on the southeast by the high and steep slopes of the Carmel, it exhibits several features absent from the adjacent parts of the coastal plain north and south of it. Along the coast a relatively wide and continuous beach reappears, followed by a belt of sand dunes about a mile wide; no cliff formations are interposed between the plain and the sea. Farther inland it borders the relatively low and gently sloping Yodefat Hills – outliers of the Lower Galilee Mountains. The eastern part of the plain is covered by heavy alluvial soils, partly in consequence of the extensive swamps that existed here in the past. The southern portion of the plain is drained by the sluggishly meandering Kishon River; the northern part is drained by the Na'aman River, fed by springs and extensive swamps behind the sand area. For several kilometers the Na'aman flows parallel to the coastline and along the inland margin of the dune belt. Acre-Tyre Plain (Galilean Coastal Plain). The coastal plain north of Acre terminates abruptly in the promontory of Rosh ha-Nikrah. It bears some resemblance to the Sharon and still more to the coastal plain of the Carmel. Here the coast is bordered by cliffs (albeit inconsiderable in height) accompanied by an extensive abrasion platform, disjointed parts of which can be discerned in the form of reefs at a distance of 1.2–1.8 mi. (2–3 km.) from the coastline. There are several very small indentations in the coast, which is subject to strong marine erosion. The paucity and smallness of beaches and their predominant cover of coarse sands are also the result of wave erosion. No larger dune-sand accumulations intervene between the coast and the plain, and there are only few and small remnants of kurkar ridges. The narrow plain – 4 mi. (7 km.) maximum width – is bordered on the east by interfluves, i.e., mountain spurs created by the numerous rivers from the Upper Galilee Mountains discharging into the Mediterranean. These rivers also supply the bulk of the heavy soil material that forms the cover of the plain almost exclusively. The promontory of Rosh ha-Nikrah (the biblical "Tyrian Ladder"), the seaward scarp of an Upper Galilean mountain range along which the present-day border between the State of Israel and Lebanon runs, sharply delimits the Acre Plain. The headland, of a type frequently encountered along the Lebano-Syrian coast and bordering immediately on the sea for a length of about 7 mi. (12 km.), consists of calcareous rock, and its base contains deep sea caves cut in by wave erosion. Beyond the promontory the coastline curves gently in and out, and along it extend beaches and even a continuous, although very small, dune belt. Of specific interest here is Tyre, formerly situated on a reef island but now connected to the mainland as if by a tombolo. This transformation was caused by the accumulations of sand at the dam constructed during the siege of this harbor town by Alexander the Great, and it is one of the countless instances of major landscape transformations effected by man in the Middle East. The coastal plain east of the sand zone is narrower than the Acre Plain and irregularly confined by the east-west-oriented spurs of the Lebanese-Galilee Mountains. It is traversed by a relatively great number of ephemeral rivers which are the main suppliers of the predominantly alluvial soil cover of the plain.
the western mountain zone
Often referred to metaphorically as the backbone of Cisjordan, the Western Mountain Zone extends from Eilat to the Valley of Qasimiye along the entire length of the region. Within the Levant, it tectonically represents the southernmost outliers of the great Alpine orogenic system and accordingly consists mainly of rather simple and short fold structures generally of medium height. The latter characteristic is also reflected in the term "Hills" (Judean Hills, Samarian Hills, etc.), which is frequently used in this region. In addition to folding, the formation of these mountains was strongly affected by faulting, particularly in the vicinity of the Rift Valley and in Galilee. Despite its moderate elevation above sea level and in relation to the lower surroundings (valleys and basin floors), the relief of this mountainous region, which occupies more than two-thirds of the Cisjordan area, is very pronounced. Steep slopes often appear as major and minor scarp and cliff faces, and surface roughness even on moderate slopes is frequently accentuated, particularly in the southern part of the Mountain Zone, by the almost complete absence of soil and vegetation cover. In the central and northern parts, large tracts were once covered by forests (now largely reduced to sporadic maquis and garigue – brush-and-thorn vegetation), and the slopes were terraced, creating a main area of cultivation. These terraces, now largely disused and in disrepair, form one of the most conspicuous external features of the slopes. The slopes that were not terraced and the mostly flat or gently domed summit surfaces are covered by coarse detritus of different sizes or are pitted by mostly small and shallow depressions, as a result of strong weathering (especially solutional) of the bare surfaces (which are composed mainly of limestone).
The bold relief of the Cisjordan Mountains is mainly a result of deep incisions by the watercourses, which created valleys that frequently take the form of gorges or even canyons. In the other types of valleys as well, most of the slopes are very steep, and often no valley floors developed along the river beds. The relatively high frequency of intramontane basins of all sizes is another very important characteristic of the overall relief that contributes greatly to the multiformity and mosaic-like composition of the mountainous region. The extremely variegated pattern of the mountainous zone, resulting in a large number of small regions – and thus contributing to the particularist tendencies of its inhabitants throughout history – was brought about by the complexity of its tectonic, lithological, and climatic conditions. Tectonically, the most characteristic aspect of Cisjordan – in sharp contrast to Transjordan – is the most intensive intermixing of major features originating through up- and downfolding, mostly with subsequent forms produced by faulting. In the southern and central parts of the Mountain Zone the first group of processes determined – mainly in the form of anti- and synclines – the buildup, extension, and course of the principal ranges, whereas the latter played a decisive role in their disruption. Particularly in the northern part, faulting and associated features virtually obliterate the former structures, creating a relief mainly characterized by intramontane tectonic valleys and ranges, the extent and orientation of which is determined by these valleys. The role of some major subsidence regions (Rift Valley, Beth-Shean-Harod-Jezreel Valley and Haifa Bay) in relation to general exterior configuration has already been pointed out. Fault zones and lines also exert decisive influence upon the drainage system of a greater part of Cisjordan.
The lithology of the Cisjordan Mountain Zone is rather diversified, considering the small size of the area. Most of the mountains consist of calcareous rocks, with only small areas of outcropping sandstones, magmatic, metamorphic, and volcanic rocks. Due to the great differences in their composition (limestone, dolomites, chalk, calcareous marls, etc.) and frequent intercalations – each responding rather dissimilarly to denudational processes – these calcareous formations greatly contribute to the diversification of the landscape, determining major and minor morphological features specific to the predominant bedrock. The influence of climatic factors, mainly the amount and type of precipitation, is even greater. The southern part of the Cisjordan Mountain Zone, although consisting predominantly of the same types of rock as the central and northern parts, differs greatly from the latter in its morphological physiognomy. Weathering processes are dissimilar here in degree and even to some extent in kind. For example, farther north solutional processes exert the greatest influence upon the surface configuration by creating karstic features that dominate the landscape, particularly in Galilee. These processes are almost entirely lacking in the southern highlands. Runoff is much greater and consequently erosion is much more intensive here than in regions receiving much larger amounts of precipitation. The eastern flank of the central area is semiarid and arid (the Judean Desert), due to its location leeward of the Judean Mountains, with the precipitation caused by the moisture-bearing winds from the Mediterranean consequently decreased. This area also exhibits a specific set of morphological features, in many respects similar to those of the Negev, which is also mainly affected by climatic conditions.
Mainly in accordance with the three criteria mentioned above (tectonic, lithological, and climatic conditions), the mountain region of Cisjordan can be subdivided into the following major physiographical units: the Negev Highlands, the Central Mountain Massif, and the Galilean Mountains. Each of these units comprises several subregions determined by geological, tectonic, lithological, climatic, and consequently morphological conditions. Each is very different from the others in the overall character of its landscape. The width of the Mountain Zone varies proportionately with that of Cisjordan as a whole (i.e., the distance from the Mediterranean coast to the Rift Valley), decreasing from about 50 mi. (80 km.) in the Negev Highlands to about 22 mi. (35 km.) in Galilee.
In many respects, the Negev Highlands represent a direct continuation of the plateau and mountainous regions of the Sinai Peninsula, exhibiting great similarity of tectonic, lithological, and climatic conditions and, consequently, relief. The similarities are most evident in the southern part of the Highlands, the Eilat Mountains, which extend from the Gulf of Eilat to Bikat Sayyarim and Bikat Uvdah in the north. Here, though confined to a comparatively small area, are found ranges and blocks composed of magmatic and metamorphic rocks that build up the larger part of the southern apex of the Sinai Peninsula and are not found in any other region of Cisjordan, with the exception of Makhtesh Ramon. Similarly, outcrops of Nubian Sandstone, exposed only on the floors and the foot of the slopes of the makhteshim (see below), are relatively widely distributed here as surface rocks. These types of rock are in very close contact with calcareous ones, creating relief forms of singular diversity and even contrast. The extremely variegated composition of the crystalline rocks makes them particularly susceptible to granular weathering, exfoliation, and sheeting. These processes result in steep, serrated, and crenulated ridges (Jehoshafat, Shelomo, Roded, Shehoret), separated from one another by steep fault-conditioned valleys. Even more spectacular are the relief features that developed from Nubian Sandstone. Columnar jointing – of which the Solomon Pillars in the Timna region, about 15 mi. (25 km.) north of Eilat, are but one outstanding example. Column relicts in the form of mushroom rocks, castellated rocks, rocking stones, and intensive alveolation, producing cave-like tafoni and canyons – deeply incised in the multi-colored sandstone by the extremely strong erosive action of the many river courses (the Red Canyon, Naḥal Amran, etc.) carrying only flash floods once or twice within a year – give rise to landscapes even far more diversified in ever-changing micro-features than those which developed in the crystalline bedrock. In sharp contrast to these landforms are those which developed on other bedrock, limestone in particular. The relief in limestone is generally far more uniform and massive and is mainly characterized by flat-topped ranges and small plateau-like elevations covered by angular gravels. The latter are produced by weathering, which imparts to the surfaces covered by them the appearance of typical ḥamada (block-strewn desert surfaces).
The Paran Plateau
This area comprises mainly the Cisjordan catchment area of the Paran River, a major tributary of the Arabah, which is the collecting stream of the Rift Valley south of the Dead Sea. The headrivers of the Paran drain the parts of the Sinai adjacent to the Eilat Mountains in a relatively dense network of wide channels filled with sand and pebbles. The highest elevations of the Paran Plateau – some of which form mountain blocks or ridges – are on its northeastern side – Har Nes, 3,329 ft. (1,015 m.); Har Saggi, 3,229 ft. (1,006 m.). In the eastward direction, elevations become lower and surfaces generally more uniform. In strong contrast to the variegated lithology of the Eilat Mountains, the tableland here is built up almost exclusively of calcareous strata: limestones interbedded with chalk, marls, and thin layers of chert. The surface of the plateau features the widest areas of "desert pavement" found in Cisjordan, i.e., areas covered by angular gravels (ḥamada) or rounder pebble-like debris (a desert surface type morphologically known as "serir"). At the southern periphery of the plateau, Bikat Sayyarim and the far larger Bikat Uvdah represent typical intramontane desert basins covered and filled by sands. They are subject to occasional flooding and drain – albeit through very indistinct channel beds – into the Ḥiyyon River, a major tributary of the Arabah River, running about 12 mi. (20 km.) south of the Paran. To the northeast the table-land is delimited by the gravel-covered Ha-Meshar Basin, which, from the hydrographical point of view, belongs to the Central Negev region.
The Central Negev Highlands. The anticline of Ramon is essentially the only major structure of the Central Negev Highlands. This upfold extends approximately 43 mi. (70 km.) in length from the biblical Kadesh-Barnea in the Sinai almost to the very escarpments bordering the western side of the Arabah Rift. It is not only the highest portion of the Negev Highlands – Har Ramon, 3,395 ft. (1,035 m.) – but also structurally and morphologically the most complex. This is very evident in one of the most pronounced occurrences of relief inversion, i.e., the conversion of a major structural element into a morphologically "negative," i.e., reverse form. Here the anticline was transformed, chiefly by erosion, into a wide, elongated, valley-like basin, about 28 mi. (45 km.) in length, enclosed by almost perpendicular slopes, some of them about 1,000 ft. (300 m.) high. This specific form, which also occurs in some anticlines of northern Sinai and in the northern part of the Negev Highlands, is referred to in Hebrew as makhtesh ("mortar" or "mixing bowl"), which in the geomorphology of arid regions is now becoming a general term to denote affinite landforms. The greatest influence upon the formation, lithology, and configuration of Makhtesh Ramon was exerted by faulting along its southern flank. Accordingly, magmatic-volcanic rocks are exposed here. Wherever the enclosure is composed of these rocks, it assumes the form of a serrated range, resembling those in the crystalline Eilat Mountains and strongly contrasting with the other enclosured portions of the makhtesh, which consist of Nubian Sandstones in the lower and hard limestone in the upper parts of their slopes. The floor of Makhtesh Ramon, covered mainly by detritus of Nubian Sandstone, reveals many small elevations, preponderantly in the form of flat-topped basalt-covered remains of former surface levels. The makhtesh is drained by the multichanneled Ramon River, which breaches the eastern enclosure in a narrow steep gorge to join the Arabah River system. To the northwest of the makhtesh, its foreland forms a rather level, or gently undulating, tableland up to its very rim; only at the periphery of the plateau does the relief become mountainous (Har Loẓ, Har Ḥorshah, Rekhes-Nafḥa).
The Northern Negev Highlands
On the northeast, the Central Negev Highlands are separated from the Northern Highlands by the wide, deeply incised Valley of the Zin River. This tectonically conditioned valley begins as a wide erosive cirque, the southwestern side of which forms precipitous, almost perpendicular, scarps. At a small distance from the northern side of the valley two makhteshim are situated: Ha-Makhtesh ha-Gadol (the "Big Makhtesh") and Ha-Makhtesh ha-Katan (the "Little Makhtesh"). They differ from Makhtesh Ramon not only by their smaller size and almost regular oval shape, but also in structure, lithology, and consequently morphology. Not affected by faulting, they represent upfolds turned into deep valley-basins, on the floors of which older sedimentary strata became exposed through erosion by the watercourses draining them. Their almost perpendicularly sloping walls of Nubian Sandstone are overlaid by much more resistant limestones and dolomites. The Ḥatirah and Ḥaẓevah Rivers, running parallel to the long axes of Ha-Makhtesh ha-Gadol and Ha-Makhtesh ha-Katan, respectively, breach their eastern walls in impressive gorges to join the Zin River. Toward the west and northwest elevations become progressively lower, although there are several upfolds rising above their surroundings as short ridges with moderate slopes, frequently worn down to isolated table-hills. In the west the plateau margins are partly covered by relatively large areas of sand dunes (Ḥaluẓah, Agur), which form a transition zone to the Plain of the Negev. On the northern side, the highlands terminate in the wide Beersheba Basin and its much narrower eastern continuation, the Valley of Arad. Structurally, and in particular climatically, these two intramontane depressions form a marked border zone between the arid Negev Highlands and the mountains north of it, where Mediterranean conditions prevail. In the Beersheba Basin, the mean annual precipitation is 10 in. (250 mm.), a quantity indicating the transition from semiarid to subhumid conditions. The thick loess cover and the amount of precipitation together give rise to the most convenient conditions for agriculture within the Negev. The main drainage artery of this part of the Negev is the Beersheba River (a tributary of the Besor River), and several of its confluents originate in the Hebron Mountains, although its almost annually recurring floodings are mainly caused by the tributaries crossing the relatively impervious loess areas.
The Central Mountain Massif
This range extends from the Beersheba Basin up to the Beth-Shean–Harod–Jezreel Valley sequence in the north. It represents the most compact and continuous mountain region of Cisjordan. Its basic structures are relatively large, meridionally trending anticlinoria, i.e., systems usually composed of one major upfold flanked by downfolds and smaller anticlines. Faulting does not exert a great influence upon the configuration of the southern part of the area; its effect is far stronger in the northern portion, though not yet as decisive in determining the landscape as in Galilee. According to climatic, lithological, and hypsographical conditions, this area can be subdivided into several major units. The most important difference exists between the western part, which is fully exposed to the climatic influences of the Mediterranean, and the eastern flank descending into the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley. The landscape of the eastern portion, which is leeward of the precipitation-bearing winds, is consequently semi-desertic and desertic in character (Judean Desert). The difference is accentuated by lithological variance. The western flank is built predominantly of limestone and dolomite strata, whereas in the eastern one chalks and marls prevail. To the west a subregion or different lithology and elevation is interposed between the southern part of the Central Mountain Massif and the Coastal Plains. Considerably lower and built mainly of chalky rock, it is a hill region gradually rising toward the massif but separated from it in a very pronounced manner by a series of valleys running parallel to the foot of the massif. Toward the north, two major protrusions of the massif can be regarded as distinct mountain regions: a smaller one – the Gilboa – separating the valleys of Harod and Jezreel, and another, much larger and more complex in structure – the Carmel, in the broad sense – which, as already mentioned, delimits the southern Coastal Plains. According to the criteria enumerated above, the Central Mountain Massif can be subdivided into the following regions: Judean Mountains, comprising the Mediterranean southern portion of the massif; Judean Desert; Shephelah (the hill region to the west of the Judean Mountains); Samarian Highlands (the northern part of the massif) and its two subunits, Gilboa and Carmel.
The Judean Mountains
The core region of Cisjordan, the Judean Mountains consist structurally of two consecutive large anticlinoria, whose axes – in contrast to the upfolds in the Negev, which trend mainly southwest-northeast – run almost meridionally. Built up of limestone and dolomite strata with chalky and marly intercalations (the latter very important as groundwater horizons), the mountains' main topographical features are an almost continuous watershed zone (rather uniform in height and delimiting them toward the Judean Desert) and the many interfluves (i.e., ridge-like mountainous spurs separated by deeply incised valleys) extending mainly westward. The watershed zone is generally flat and widens considerably in many places. Its topography thus provided suitable conditions for defense and the development of communications by means of a highway between the cities that were built in this area from earliest times.
Not far from this divide, watercourses begin to incise progressively deeper valleys, the steep slopes of which almost fully converge at the narrow rocky river beds; generally there are no accompanying floodplains. The slopes rising from the valley floors are, for the most part, intensively terraced and end in almost flat or only slightly domed tops separated by wide gentle saddles. Both the mountain tops and the slopes (where not terraced) are densely covered by block detritus, deeply corroded by solutional processes, which also produced the many rounded depressions, holes, and cavities in the slope surfaces as well as many caverns and caves. The prevalent terra rossa is mainly another product of this weathering process, here strongly effective due to the considerable amounts of precipitation – about 20 in. (500 mm.) on the annual average. From the orographic point of view, three parts of the Judean Mountains, very unequal in size, are distinguished: Hebron Mountains, Jerusalem Mountains, Beth-El (Ramallah) Mountains.
The Hebron Mountains extend from the Beersheba Basin up to the Wadi Arṭās in the north (a valley belonging to the drainage area of the Dead Sea), the site of the Solomon Pools. They rise steeply from the Beersheba Basin (one of the southward protrusions of these mountains separates the latter from the Arad Basin) to heights of about 2,600 ft. (800 m.), culminating in summits near Ḥalḥul (north of Hebron) that rise to 3,300 ft. (1,000 m.). The Hebron Mountains are also the largest constituent of the Judean Mountains, with an area greatly exceeding the total of the two other subunits. From the morphological point of view, the southern portion of the Hebron Mountains can be subdivided into two main parts, separated by the relatively wide, mostly flat-floored, and not very deeply incised valley of the Hebron River, a tributary of the Beersheba River, which runs for about 18 mi. (30 km.) almost parallel to the meridional axis of the mountains. The mountains here thus consist of two main ridges. An eastern, higher one is called the Eshtemoa (Samū ʿ) Range after one of the villages, the name and site of which have remained virtually unchanged since biblical times. Along this ridge extends the divide between the dry valleys (except at times of flood) descending into the Dead Sea Rift and the southern and western ones that drain into the Mediterranean. The western ridge is named after the village of Adoraim (Dūrā), also mentioned in the Bible. The highway connecting Beersheba with the townships and villages of the watershed zone runs along this ridge. Also characteristic of the Hebron Mountains are several topographic depressions, the largest of which, the valley of Berachah, is distinguished by an abundant spring. The waters of this spring, together with those of others issuing in the vicinity, feed the Solomon Pools, which were the most important source of water for Jerusalem in the past. Near Hebron the two ridges merge to form a single watershed zone that continues along the entire length of the Judean Mountains. Climatically, the Hebron Mountains represent a transition zone from semiarid to Mediterranean conditions. Whereas at al-Ẓāhiriyya, the southernmost village along the main highway, the annual precipitation is only about 12 in. (300 mm.), it increases to 20 in. (500 mm.) in Hebron, and 28 in. (700 mm.) in the region of the highest elevations, where snowfall is frequent. Accordingly, the larger part of the soil cover (where preserved) in the Hebron Mountains is terra rossa.
The Jerusalem Mountains are about 500 ft. (150 m.) lower on the average than the Hebron and Beth-El Mountains – highest elevation, al-Nabī Samwīl, 2,870 ft. (875 m.) – and form a wide saddle-like region between these sections. This topographical feature somewhat facilitates the ascent from the Coastal Plains to the watershed region, with its settlements and highway, and the descent into the Rift Valley, in particular to Jericho, the most important township of the Valley region throughout history. The Jerusalem Mountains are also intensively dissected into interfluvial ridges. One of these, Mount of Olives – Mount Scopus, immediately east of Jerusalem, forms a conspicuous border with the Judean Desert. The Judean Mountains are drained mainly by the Sorek River, one of the major watercourses of the Central Mountain Massif. The Sorek River discharges into the Mediterranean, and its markedly meandering valley proved sufficiently wide for the construction of the railway connecting Jerusalem with the Coastal Plains.
The Beth-El Mountains, covering an area similar in size to that of the Jerusalem Mountains – about 9 mi. (15 km.) in length – rise to summit heights exceeding 3,300 ft. (1,000 m.) – Baal-Hazor, 3,332 ft. (1,016 m.). One of their most important characteristics is that the watershed attains considerable width there. A road along one of the interfluves extending to the west (Beth-Horon Ridge) was formerly the main approach to Jerusalem from the Coastal Plains and consequently of particular strategic importance.
The Judean Desert
According to its appearance, the Judean Desert could be regarded as a northward extension of the arid Negev lands that border on it at the valley of the Ḥemar River. Genetically, however, it belongs to the orographic types of deserts, whose aridity – much less pronounced than in "true" deserts – is due mainly to the fact that the area is situated on the leeward side of the massive and high Judean Mountains, which intercept the rain-bearing winds. This effect is made more pronounced by the steepness of the eastern flank of the Judean anticlinoria toward the Dead Sea–Jordan Rift Valley, about 1,000–1,300 ft. (300–400 m.) below sea level. Actually, only the lower portions of this flank are arid. Even there, the larger part of the area receives more than 4 in. (100 mm.) of rain per annum – Jericho receives about 6 in. (150 mm.) – whereas on the upper portions the precipitation decreases gradually from about 16 in. (400 mm.) near the watershed region to the amounts mentioned above. The Judean Desert also comprises the eastern flank of the Samarian Mountains up to the wide valley of Wadi Fāri ʿ a and the spur of Qeren Sartaba protruding from the Samarian Mountains into the Jordan Rift Valley. It differs markedly from the Judean Mountains in lithology as well as in structure and is composed predominantly of chalky formations younger in origin than those forming the bulk of the Judean Mountains. In contrast to the latter, faulting – syngenetical with that which created the Dead Sea-Jordan Rift Valley – exerted a great influence upon the configuration of this desert, particularly by creating the step-like descent toward the Rift Valley. The relative imperviousness of the bedrock, the much lower resistance to erosion, and the steep overall declivity caused by a difference in elevation of about 4,000 ft. (1,200 m.) from the watershed zone to the Dead Sea, over a distance of only 19 mi. (30 km.) result in most of the precipitation turning into highly erosive runoff. Consequently, the Judean Desert represents a "mountain wilderness," an apparently chaotic landscape of innumerable valleys of all kinds. Many of them are canyons cut in harder rock exposed along the flexures and fault lines (Ẓe'elim, Agurot, Mishmar), whereas the higher-lying portions form a maze of mostly flat-topped hills (some of which are famous as sites of ancient fortresses such as Herodium and Masada). In the Ḥatrurim area these hills impart to the landscape the appearance of badlands. It was mainly this type of relief, the absence of productive soils of the terra rossa type, and the very short duration and scantiness of the vegetation cover – almost excluding trees and actually confined to a few weeks during the rainy season – that throughout historical times rendered it a region of "desolation" and a refuge for fugitives from the law and prevented any permanent settlement or the establishment of communication networks.
Topographically, the Shephelah represents a transition zone between the Coastal Plains and the Hebron and Jerusalem Mountains. It is relatively narrow – about 8 mi. (13 km.) – in proportion to its south-north extension – about 35 mi. (60 km.). Though they form the foothills of the Judean Mountains, the Shephelah hills differ from the former in almost all respects. Structurally, they form a major synclinal part of the south Judean anticlinorium, composed mainly of chalky formations of Senonian-Eocene origin. Hypsographically, the Shephelah consists of two parts: a western one (the "Low Shephelah"), rising to a height of about 600 ft. (200 m.) above the Coastal Plains, and an eastern one (the "High Shephelah") about 600 ft. (200 m.) higher than the former. On the north the Shephelah borders on the tectonically conditioned Aijalon Valley, one of the main natural approaches to the Judean Mountains. The Shephelah is a region of gently sloped hills separated by the confluents of the major rivers descending into the area from the Judean Mountains. At their entrance into the Shephelah, these rivers, and several of their tributaries, form relatively wide-floored valleys that run for a considerable stretch along the border between the hill and the mountain region. Passage between these longitudinal valleys is relatively convenient, and this natural communication channel has been very important throughout history.
The Samarian Mountains
Morphotectonically, the Samarian Mountains (less frequently referred to as the Ephraim Mountains) form a transitional link between the massive Judean Mountains, which are influenced little by faulting, and those of the Galilees, where faulting has all but obliterated the other tectonic elements. No topographic features form any pronounced boundary between the two parts of the Central Mountain Massif, and it is only by convention that the upper reaches of the Shiloh River – a tributary of the Yarkon – are used for this demarcation. Structurally, the Samarian Mountains consist of two main parts: an eastern anticlinal one, built up of Cretaceous formations, and a synclinal western one, consisting mainly of rocks of Eocene origin. Characteristically, the highest elevations are found in the latter part. Here the twin mountains of Ebal and Gerizim attain heights of 3,083 ft. (940 m.) and 2,890 ft. (881 m.), respectively. Northward, approaching the valleys of Beth-Shean and Jezreel, respectively, elevations become progressively smaller – about 1,300 ft. (400 m.) above sea level. The structure and its morphological expression are mainly influenced by faulting, which produced tectonic valleys and almost enclosed basins (the latter additionally affected and shaped by solution processes). Sequences of short ranges and mountain blocks thus rise steeply above their flat surroundings, which sometimes form relatively extensive intramontane plains. Thus, the wide tectonic valley of Shechem (Nablus) separates Ebal from Gerizim and continues eastward as Wadi Fāri ʿ a, which separates the southern, higher part of the Samarian Mountains from the spurs of a much lower northern part. The broad, tectonic valley of Dothan delimits the Samarian Mountains, in the narrow sense, in the direction of the Carmel, whereas in the interior parts, several wide alluvia-filled basins (Emek Shiloh, the Lubban Valley, Emek Hamikhmetat, and the largest of them, Marj Sānūr) endow the region with some features characteristic of Lower Galilee. The shorter distance between the Samarian Mountains and the sea, with no intervening foothill region, the many and wide valley openings, and the smaller amount of depression in the Rift Valley bordering it to the east resulted in a Mediterranean climate for almost all of Samaria, except for a narrow belt adjacent to the Jordan Rift, where semiarid conditions still prevail. Samaria receives larger amounts of precipitation than the Judean Mountains – 28–36 in. (700–800 mm.) annual average rainfall – and the soil cover (terra rossa and rendzina) is also much more continuous. There is a great deal of evidence that considerable parts of Samaria were once covered by woods.
According to its situation and structure, Mount Gilboa represents a direct continuation of the Samarian Mountains, although almost separated from the main body of these mountains by the Jenin Plain – an extension of the Jezreel Plain. It is bordered on the east and southeast by steep fault-scarps, which, together with some outcrops of volcanic rocks, indicate the complex tectonic processes that caused the separation of the Samarian from the Galilee Mountains, also resulting in the formation of the Harod-Jezreel Valley. Composed of Eocene strata, with outcrops of Senonian ones on the northeast side, the surface here is mostly barren, block-strewn, and covered by soil in patches only – probably as the result of intensive slopewash and consequent soil erosion, mainly caused by the difference in elevations of about 1,600 ft. (500 m.) over a distance of only about a mile between the mountain crest and the floor of the surrounding valleys. Precipitation amounts to about 18 in. (450 mm.) on the annual average. The barrenness of the Gilboa, in such strong contrast to the once forested landscapes of Samaria, may serve as the factual background to the explanation of the well-known biblical curse laid upon this mountain. Nowhere in Cisjordan is there such a concentration of springs, some very abundant in discharge, as is found at the bases of the fault escarpments of the Gilboa (Ein Moda, Ein Ḥumah, Ein Amal, En-Harod). These are now one of the most important sources of irrigation for the Harod and Beth-Shean Valleys.
To the northwest a highland body branches off from the Samarian Mountains, differing from the latter in many respects, particularly in structure. In the regional literature of Cisjordan, this branch is usually referred to as the Carmel, although it consists of three very distinct parts of very different structure, lithology, topography, and consequent relief features. The Carmel, therefore, represents a triplet mountain body about 35 mi. (60 km.) long along its median axis and stretching southeast-northwest – a single major occurrence within Cisjordan, although recurring in some lesser ranges. Its general shape is that of an elongated triangle, the relatively short base of which is formed by the Dothan Valley, separating it from Samaria, with the two long sides facing the northern Sharon Plain on the west and the Plain of Haifa and the Jezreel Valley on the northeast. The apex of this triangle – the Carmel headland – abuts almost immediately on the Mediterranean; this is a feature that recurs only at Rosh ha-Nikrah. All the flanks of the mountain, as well as those of its parts, exhibit high and steep slopes, mainly created by faulting, rising abruptly above the adjacent plains. The three subunits of the Carmel (from southeast to northwest) are the Umm al-Faḥm Block, separated from Samaria by the wide Dothan Valley; the Manasseh region, disjointed from the former by the tectonically conditioned Iron Valley; and the Carmel, in the narrow sense, its largest component, separated from the Manasseh region by the Jokneam–Tut Valley sequence, also of tectonic origin.
The Umm al-Faḥm Block (lately also called the Amir Range) forms a quadrangle-shaped plateau, whose undulating surface provides a gradual descent toward the southwest. Toward its northeast confines, the plateau becomes higher, with bolder relief, and ends in a scarp descent facing the Jezreel Valley. Structurally, it represents an upwarped and uplifted part of the Carmel and accordingly consists of resistant Cenomanian limestone and dolomite formations framed at the periphery of the block by formations of Turonian age. Relatively large areas are covered by basalts and volcanic tuff, a lithological feature recurring in the two other subunits of the Carmel. It receives a mean annual precipitation of about 20 in. (500 mm.) and the prevailing soils are of terra rossa type. There are very scanty remains of forests, and still larger areas covered by maquis, their degraded forms, indicate that in the past extensive areas here were wooded. With the exception of its southernmost part, the area is drained almost exclusively by tributaries of the Kishon River.
The region of Manasseh, similar in its quadrangular outline to that of Umm al-Faḥm, contrasts with it in almost all other respects. Composed predominantly of soft Eocene chalks, which also accounts for the scantiness of terra rossa and the wide distribution of rendzina soils in this area, its originally tabular surface became intensively dissected. The dominant relief features of the region are thus hills with moderate slopes rising to relatively small heights above the valley floors. The overall height of the region above sea level is about 600 ft. (200 m.) less than than Umm al-Faḥm Block and still less than that of the Carmel. Its slopes to the Jezreel Valley are also far lower and less steep and continuous than those of the two adjacent units. Due to the relative impermeability of the surface rock, and consequently the considerable percentage of runoff and particularly the erodibility of the bedrock, the drainage net is rather dense, flowing to the Kishon River in the north and to Ha-Tanninim ("Crocodile") and Daliyyah Rivers in the south, both of which discharge directly into the Mediterranean.
The singularity of the Carmel within Cisjordan – used in the Scriptures, together with Mount Tabor, as a paradigm of beautiful mountainous scenery – is based on the following factors: it appears as a very regularly shaped mountain block, well defined on all its sides, and conspicuously elevated above the surrounding plain; it is the only major mountain – about 22 mi. (35 km.) long along its central axis – in Cisjordan with an extended slope rising only a small distance from the Mediterranean; its apex forms a most conspicuous headland, and beyond its northern flank the coastline recedes, forming the only true bay of the country; fully exposed on both its flanks to the Mediterranean, it receives large amounts of rain – about 32 in. (800 mm.) per annum – and dew; arboreal vegetation persisted here, due to its great regenerative power, mainly as a result of favorable climatic conditions. Structurally the Carmel represents a sort of counterpart to the Umm al-Faḥm Block. It, too, was upwarped and uplifted and is mainly composed of Cenomanian-Turonian limestones and dolomites. Volcanic outcrops, in particular tuff, are relatively widespread, and the latter greatly influence the form of valleys. Whereas the valleys incised into the hard, intensively jointed calcareous rocks are deep, narrow, and have steep slopes – frequently actually minor canyons (Naḥal Me'arot, Daliyyah, Oren), those which developed in the tuffs are conspicuously wide and flat-floored, and exhibit relatively gentle valley slopes (Kerem Maharal, Shefeyah Valley). The calcareous parts are strongly affected by solutional weathering. Thoroughly corroded blocks cover large portions of the surfaces, and many of the almost perpendicular valley slopes contain caves, some of which are of considerable prehistoric importance. The Carmel is strongly affected by faulting, which not only gave rise to the almost uninterrupted slopes descending steeply to the Haifa Plain and to the Jezreel Valley and less pronounced ones along the Jokneam trough, which separates it from the Manasseh region, but also strongly influenced the relief of its interior parts. Faulting here gave rise to several depressions and had a major influence upon the course of some of the valleys. The Carmel, like its adjacent mountain units, consists of two topographically differentiated parts: a higher one, its summit region, along its northeast flank – from Rosh ha-Carmel, 1,790 ft. (546 m.), to the somewhat lower Keren ha-Carmel – referred to in regional literature as the "High Carmel," and a far larger part sloping down to the Carmel Coast, the "Low Carmel." The latter consists mainly of broad interfluves, created by the many valleys descending to the Coastal Plain. The drainage net is characteristically varied in catchment area and pattern, in close accordance with the relief differentiation described above. The divide between the watercourses descending on the northeastern slopes and tributary to the Kishon runs a very small distance from the scarp rim. The valleys of these water-courses are short and relatively straight and are joined by very few tributaries. The watercourses running west and draining more than three-quarters of the total area of the Carmel are more numerous and intensely ramified, particularly the Oren and Daliyyah Rivers. Toward the south the Carmel juts out into the Plain of Sharon and up to the valley of the Ha-Tanninim River in a large spur separated from the main body by the valley of the Daliyyah River. Called the Zikhron Ya'akov Mountains, after the principal settlement, the spur encloses the Carmel Coastal Plain to the west and separates it from the Plain of Binyaminah, a northward extension of the Sharon.
the valley sequence
From the Jordan Rift Valley to the coast of the Mediterranean, Cisjordan is traversed by an east-west sequence of large, interconnected, elongated basins that are of preeminent physio- and anthropogeographical importance. These are the Harod Valley, named after its main water artery, the Harod River; the Jezreel Plain, the largest component of the sequence; and the Plain of Haifa, which, genetically, forms the continental terminal part of this tectonic trough and continues westward as the Bay of Haifa. The three basins form relatively wide plains, enclosed on their southern and northern sides by abruptly rising, steep mountains, and constitute a marked discontinuity within the Cisjordan highlands north of the Beersheba Basin. The vale sequence subdivides the highlands very conspicuously into two main mountain complexes: a larger, southern one (Judean Mountains, Samarian Mountains, and Carmel) and a northern one, approximately one-third the size of the former, the Galilees.
The Harod Valley
The Harod Valley – the easternmost component of the sequence – represents, hypsographically, topographically, climatically, and lithologically, a westward salient of the Beth-Shean Valley. There is no major relief feature that could serve as demarcation between these two units; therefore the travertine terraces, more correctly their remnants near Beth-Shean, are used by convention for this purpose. Their correlative characteristics are as follows: the surface of the eastern part of the funnel-shaped vale gradually descends to below sea level and merges imperceptibly with the depression of the Beth-Shean and Jordan Valleys; temperatures and precipitation (in both amount and distribution) are very similar to those of the Beth-Shean Valley; a close likeness of the soil cover in two valleys, particularly in the types resulting from decomposition of basalts and travertine; the already mentioned abundance of springs, particularly at the foot of the Gilboa scarps. In the past the Harod Valley was partly covered by swamps due to the relative impermeability of some of its soil cover, heavy flooding by the many water-courses reaching it from the nearby high, steep mountain enclosure, and the incapacity of the bed of the Harod to contain the floodwaters. The many springs were an additional cause of swamp formation.
The Jezreel Valley
The largest of all intramontane basins in Cisjordan is the Valley of Jezreel, formerly also known as the Plain of Armageddon (after the fortress of Megiddo, which was renowned in the annals of the Fertile Crescent). Roughly triangular in shape, it is bordered on the southwest by the Carmel, Manasseh Plateau, and the Umm al-Faḥm Block; on the north by the Lower Galilee Mountains; and on the east, discontinuously, by Mount Tabor, Givat ha-Moreh, and the Gilboa Mountains. The shape of this valley is straight only along the Carmel; at the other borders there are several embayment-like extensions of the plain into the surrounding mountains. The largest of these extensions is the Plain of Jenin, enclosed on the east by the Gilboa and joined on the southwest by the Dothan Valley. Eastward, the Jezreel Valley downgrades imperceptibly in the vicinity of Afulah into the Harod Valley and intrudes deeply into the Lower Galilee Mountains, separating their outliers, Mount Tabor and Givat ha-Moreh, by the wide Chesulloth Plain. The Jezreel Valley is connected at its apex with the Haifa Plain by a narrow passage 1,600 ft. (500 m.) wide created by the valley of the Kishon (at Kiryat Ḥaroshet) near the site of Bet She'arim, between the Carmel and the Lower Galilee Mountains. The winding course of the Kishon River begins near Afulah, less than 230 ft. (70 m.) above sea level and at a distance of about 25 mi. (40 km.) from the Mediterranean, into which it discharges. In the past it was inadequate to drain the valley, particularly in the rainy season. Its many affluents from the enclosing mountains, which receive about 8 in. (200 mm.) more precipitation than the Jezreel Valley, together with the many local topographic depressions and poorly permeable alluvial heavy soil cover, turned a large part of the valley into swamps. Consequently, it was sparsely populated and little utilized agriculturally. Only after the marshes were drained and malaria, once endemic in this area, eradicated, did the valley become the area of the most intensive and continuous cultivation within the mountain zone of Cisjordan. The physiognomy of the Jezreel Valley, and to some extent also of the Harod Valley, is largely determined by the two massive, high mountain blocks rising abruptly above the plain; Mount Tabor and Givat ha-Moreh. Pronouncedly isolated from each other and from the highlands to the north and south, their summits attain heights of over 1,600 ft. (500 m.) above sea level and only slightly less above the surrounding plain. Because of the almost perfect dome shape of Mount Tabor, it was, together with the Carmel, often used to exemplify the beauty of mountainous scenery. Differing as they do in lithological structure (limestones and dolomites in Mount Tabor, outcrops of volcanic rocks in Givat ha-Moreh), these two mountains probably represent remnants of a highland zone connecting the Samarian Mountains with those of the Galilees that was shattered by the tectonic movements, which also formed the entire basin sequence.
Despite its being a part of the Coastal Plains, according to its situation and surface configuration, the Haifa Plain (formerly referred to also as the Zebulun Plain) morphotectonically represents the westernmost unit of the vale sequence. The plain continues in its submerged part as the Bay of Haifa. Accordingly, the interior part of the plain, east of the dune belt, is covered by heavy alluvial soils with very little ḥamra. Drainage here was also greatly impeded, mainly by the dune belt (as evidenced by the deferred debouchures of its two main streams, Kishon and Na'aman), and marsh areas persisted up to the time of Jewish colonization.
the galilee mountains
Occupying a smaller area than the Judean or the Samarian Highlands, the Galilee Mountains are nevertheless far more complex in lithology, structure, and consequently morphology. Basalts (there is even a remnant of a true volcano – Karnei Ḥittin, the "Horns" of Ḥittin) cover large tracts in the eastern parts, a feature recurring only in Transjordan. This cover imparts to several of its landscapes a peculiar plateau-like relief of great uniformity, in vivid contrast to areas of much more variegated configuration in the west, where the surfaces consist of calcareous rocks. Faulting, however, has exerted a far more decisive influence. In the Negev and in the Central Highlands, fold structures are found almost everywhere and are visually recognizable as the most important tectonic element that determines the relief of the region even in its minor features. In the Galilees, however, the influence of fold structures upon the relief is largely upset, permuted, and even inverted by faulting. Tectonic activity seems to be continuing at present, as evidenced by the relatively frequent, and sometimes strong, earthquakes affecting the region. Generally characteristic of the landscape of the Galilees as a whole are closely spaced sequences of basins or valleys and mountain ranges that are uplifted unequally and thus tilted, so that one slope is much steeper than the opposite. Here mountain blocks, separated from their surroundings by faults and upthrusting, constitute some of the highest summit regions of Cisjordan. Since the prevailing direction of the major fault lines is west–east, the general trend of Galilean ranges follows this direction, in strong contrast to the Central Mountain Zone's prevailing meridional trend and particularly to the Judean Mountains, where a continuous watershed zone running south–north emphasizes the compactness of this body. Tectonic conditions, resulting in an increase of rock exposures, and the relatively large amounts of precipitation produced relatively abundant karst features in the Galilees. Among these there are simple and complex dolines (small solution basins), sinkholes, even a large polje, and caves several of which contain speleothems (stalactites, stalagmites, etc.) or, they are caves which are of prime importance as prehistoric sites. Thus, lithologically, and still more so morphologically, the Galilees form the most contrasted and variegated mountain province (excluding the Eilat Mountains) of Cisjordan. Although strongly disjointed by the numerous basins, tectonic valleys, and uplifted blocks, the Galilee may be clearly subdivided into two main regions: a southern one of comparatively moderate height, Lower Galilee, and a northern one, separated from the first by an extended tectonic valley (Valley of Beth-Cherem), and rising immediately behind it to maximum summit heights in Cisjordan, Upper Galilee.
The Lower Galilee Highlands, which rise abruptly and steeply from the vale sequence in an in- and outcurving front, are markedly subdivided into an eastern part and a western one. The first is characterized by a widespread basalt cover of considerable thickness that buried a former, probably intensively sculptured relief, turning the area into groups of plateau-topped mountain bodies. This landscape, which is geologically recent, is now subject to vigorous dissection by rivers (many of them perennial) that discharge into Lake Kinneret or into the Jordan (Ammud, Ẓalmon, Ha-Yonim and Tabor Rivers). They flow through deeply incised gorges created by their great erosive power, resulting from very considerable height differences between their respective source regions and their places of debouchure, which are respectively about 700 ft. (200 m.) above and 800 ft. (250 m.) below sea level and are only 12 mi. (20 km.) apart. The rivers also subdivide eastern Lower Galilee into many units, several of which form small plateaus, rising steplike, one above the other (Kokhav – the site of the Crusader fortress of Belvoir – and the Jabneel-Kefar Tabor plateau are the largest of them). In the other two-thirds of Lower Galilee, the surface rock consists of limestone (subject to strong solutional processes and to the formation of karstic features, such as dolines, sinkholes, caverns), chalk and marl, generally intensively interbedded. In this part of Lower Galilee almost all of the landforms bear visible evidence of the decisive role played by faulting in determining the relief of the present landscape.
Central Galilee consists of a series of basins, separated by generally narrower ranges, usually representing remnants, partially uplifted portions, of the former highland surface. The series begins with the Plain of Jezreel, which, from the general morphotectonic point of view, represents the foreland of Lower Galilee. It is separated from the Tiran Basin by the abruptly rising, steeply sloping Nazareth Mountains. Beyond the Tiran Basin lies that of Beit Netofah (the largest one), separated from the Tiran Basin by the Tiran Range. The Tiran Basin now contains a large storage lake, part of the National Water Carrier System. It is bordered on the north by the Yodefat Range, which, in turn, separates it from the Sakhnīn Basin. The Shezor (Sājūr) Ridge extends north of the Sakhnīn Basin, near the boundary valley of Beth-Cherem, beyond which the first group of the Upper Galilee Mountains rises, wall-like to heights exceeding 3,280 ft. (1,000 m.). The interbasin ranges are not compact, but rather form series of rounded hills separated by wide saddles, being the short fluviatile valleys of tributaries of the major rivers that drain the basins (Ẓippori and Ḥillazon Rivers). The rivers draining the basins, however, were inadequate to collect and carry off the waters flowing down to them from the enclosing ridges. Large areas of them were flooded during the rainy season and the thick cover of heavy soils, mainly a product of slope erosion, greatly impeded infiltration. In addition to the flatness of the basin floors, the sluggishness of the flow of waters in their main channels, due to the very small gradient, strongly enhanced marshy conditions.
Most of the essential differences between the Lower and the Upper Galilee are conspicuous at their boundary, Valley of Beth-Cherem, one of the most distinct morphotectonic border zones of Cisjordan. Here, without any transition, the slopes of several mountain blocks rise abruptly to the highest summit heights in Cisjordan – Mount ha-Ari, 3,434 ft. (1,047 m.), Mount Kefir, 3,221 ft. (982 m.) – culminating slightly to the north in the three summits of the Meron Block with heights of 3,621, 3,745, and 3,962 ft. (1,104, 1,151, and 1,208 m.). Structurally these mountains, as well as the majority of the mountains throughout Upper Galilee, are horsts, i.e., blocks separated from their surroundings by faults and partially uplifted to very considerable heights. The relative abundance of the horsts, which predominate over other tectonic structures, seems to be a result of the variety of fault directions. Whereas in the Lower Galilee the major fault lines generally trend east–west, conditioning the pattern of basins and intervening ranges that follow the same directions in Upper Galilee, faults running in these directions are intersected obliquely or even at right angles by other faults. This is one of the prime causes of the isolation of the individual blocks and their apparently random pattern. The difference in height between the blocks is primarily the result of the amount of uplift rather than of different rates of denudation. The Upper Galilee Highlands, as a whole, slope down to the northwest, and their lowest parts, already within the boundaries of Lebanon (Lebanese Galilee), are adjacent to the Qasimiye Valley. Faults also strongly influence the pattern and the individual courses of the valleys, which form almost parallel gorges only several kilometers apart (Ga'aton, Chezib, Bezet Rivers within Israel; Shama ʿ and ʿ Arriya in the Lebanese Galilee). In contrast to Lower Galilee, Upper Galilee is predominantly built up of Cenomanian and Turonian limestone formations, framed in the west by a belt of less resistant Senonian ones, which also form the surface rock of the region's intramontane basins. Eocene formations, generally consisting of hard rock sequences, are more extensive in the eastern part of the region. Another important difference between the Lower and Upper Galilee is the much smaller surface covered by basalts in the latter, where they are virtually restricted to some small plateaus (Dalton, Ram Plateaus).
Upper Galilee, being northernmost of all the mountain regions of Cisjordan, with only a narrow coastal plain interposed between it and the Mediterranean to "intercept" the early rains, in particular, and affect their amounts, as in the case of the Judean Mountains, is the region with comparatively the highest precipitation within Cisjordan. Very few parts of the region receive less than 24 in. (600 mm.), while the amount of precipitation on its summit areas exceeds 40 in. (1,000 mm.) annually. Snowfall occurs almost yearly. The large amounts of precipitation combined with the hard, intensively jointed limestone bedrock and the abundance of exposed surfaces (the result of tectonic shattering and fracturing and of the erosive activity of the watercourses) have made Upper Galilee the region most strongly affected by solution processes. Accordingly, it contains almost a full inventory of subaerial and subsurface karstic features. This is the only area where a sort of "holokarst" has developed, i.e., landscapes whose surfaces are primarily affected by solution and that display almost the whole gamut of specific features. Large surfaces are rilled and corroded into a maze of small, sharp-crested ridgelets separated by even narrower minute channels (lapies). Dolines are widespread (particularly in the vicinity of Sa'sa and Alma) as are sinkholes, many of which are tens of meters deep. This is also the site of the only large "true" polje within Cisjordan, i.e., a basin of considerable size (Kadesh Naphtali), mainly a product of solution. Upper Galilee is, in addition, the site of the most abundant and intricate caves in Ereẓ Israel (some of which include a full inventory of speleothems – stalactites, stalagmites, stalagnates, dripstone-draperies, etc.).
The same basic conditions – the large amounts of precipitation and the prevalence of limestone-dolomite surface rock – produced a relatively continuous cover of terra rossa on most moderately sloping areas. These conditions also apply to the relatively large areas of forest, which have great regenerative ability, so that even in the past, when forests were utterly depleted through man's agency, considerable parts of Upper Galilee remained covered by high-grade maquis.
Upper Galilee is an analogue of Lower Galilee in its physiographic subdivision, on the basis of lithological and morphotectonic conditions. The eastern part of Upper Galilee was apparently affected by faulting to a smaller extent, imparting to the landscape a more uniform aspect than in the adjacent parts. Several areas form small plateaus, mainly due to their basalt cover. Basins of considerable size, as well as relatively long mountain ranges, running almost unbroken and not partitioned into isolated blocks, are found here. One of these, the Naphtali Range, with summits over 2,900 ft. (900 m.) high, extends almost due north up to the Qasimiye River. Its eastward slope is precipitous – 1,600 ft. (500 m.) difference in height over a distance of only about a mile – a marked faultscarp facing the upper Jordan Valley, the Ḥuleh Basin and the Marj ʿ Ayyūn Basin farther north. Plateau-like on its top surfaces, and strongly affected by karstification, the Naphtali Range forms a wall-like enclosure around the Ḥuleh Basin, uninterrupted by major valleys, and a pronounced watershed zone between this basin and the rivers draining to the Mediterranean. South of this range lies the Safed region, flanked on its east by Mount Canaan and on the west by the dominant Meron Block. Here the surface is divided into individual mountain groups, due largely to the numerous steeply incised valleys of the tributaries of the Ammud River. The central Upper Galilee Highlands are separated from the eastern Highlands by the gorge of the Ammud River, running almost due north-south. Here, as in the portion extending southward to the Beth-Cherem Valley, typical Mediterranean mountain scenery reaches its climax within Cisjordan. Slopes, mostly terraced, rise from deep valley gorges to heights surpassing 3,000 ft. (1,000 m.) above sea level. Covered by patches of trees or scrub growth, they culminate in the gently domed summits of large mountain bodies such as Mount ha-Ari, Mount Hillel, and Mount Addir, which are overshadowed by the summit region of the massive Mount Meron. The western part of Upper Galilee, much lower in absolute and relative heights, is characterized primarily by a large number of valleys (originating in the Central Highlands). As noted earlier, the valleys are very closely spaced, and form deep gorges in their upper and middle reaches (Chezib and Beẓet in the Israeli part of the area and Samara, Shama ʿ, and ʿ Azziyya in the Lebanese). These intensively dissected highlands mainly form extended interfluve ranges, the widest of which, the Ḥanitah-Rosh ha-Nikrah Range, ends with a headland into the Mediterranean (Rosh ha-Nikrah).
The Rift Valley, within Ereẓ Israel, is part of the approximately 3,700 mi. (6,000 km.) Rift Valley system that begins in Africa near the Zambezi Valley and peters out north of the Amanus Mountains. The Red Sea and its two gulfs, Eilat and Suez, are submerged parts of the system, whereas in Ereẓ Israel, as mentioned earlier, the Rift Valley is the prime determining factor of a complex of morphotectonic features unique in the world. Some of the tectonic movements that generated the Rift Valley seem to be still active here, as proved by the frequent earthquakes affecting the valley and the adjacent regions. Other evidence is provided by the many hot springs along the boundaries of the Rift Valley, indicating the presence of near-surface magmatic bodies. Geologically recent volcanic activity also played a major role in forming the basic surface configuration of the valley and its adjacent regions. Streams of lava, extruding mainly in the Bashan (particularly in the Hauran and Golan), formed an almost continuous basalt cover extending as far as to the south of the Yarmuk Valley. The lava moved down into the northern part of the present Jordan Valley, consolidated, and dammed up the valley, thus differentiating it into the Ḥuleh Valley – the head part of the Jordan River system – and a section lying about 800 ft. (250 m.) lower, at present occupied by Lake Kinneret. A vast inland sea covered the Rift Valley floor in the Middle Pleistocene, extending from the present Lake Kinneret to far beyond the southern shores of the Dead Sea. It is termed the Lashon (Lisān) Lake after the wide peninsula, or "tongue" (Heb. lashon; Ar. lisān), that protrudes into the present Dead Sea and divides it into two basins connected by a narrow strait. The level of the Lashon Lake was once about 700 ft. (200 m.) higher than that of the Dead Sea. Sediments deposited on the floor of the Lashon Lake (accordingly called the Lashon formation) – overlying very thick sediment accumulations of former lake formations, which appeared and disappeared in accordance with climatic variations during the Pliocene and Lower Pleistocene eras, and other fill-in material – are of very specific character. They consist of thinly layered clastic material, particularly clays, and evaporites, i.e., sediments produced by chemical precipitation caused mainly by evaporation. With the gradual regression of the Lashon Lake (evidenced by the many terraces along the Dead Sea slope enclosures marking the former coastlines), the Lashon formation sediments were bared. These sediments, covering the floor and the slope bases of the Rift Valley from Lake Kinneret in the north to Ein Ḥaẓevah about 20 mi. (30 km.) south of the Dead Sea, are easily eroded and thus condition microreliefing processes of the highest intensity. These processes create mazes of badlands containing almost the entire gamut of configuration features in miniature, due mainly to the innumerable gullies that dissect this former floor of the Lashon Lake. Another extremely important lithological characteristic of the Rift Valley is the abundance of rock salt and gypsum forming the bedrock of prominent features (e.g., Mount Sodom).
The Rift Valley, sunk in, troughlike, in some places to considerable depths below the sea level, forms a unique climatic region with very distinct characteristics and exerting great influence upon its adjacent zones. Climatic conditions in the Rift Valley have a decisive influence on the surface relief of its southern and central parts, i.e., from the Gulf of Eilat to Lake Kinneret. The Rift Valley receives very small amounts of precipitation, as it is leeward of the moisture-bearing winds coming from the Mediterranean, due to the interposition of the highlands of Cisjordan. Precipitation averages 1 in. (25 mm.) annually at Eilat, 2 in. (50 mm.) at the southern end, and less than 4 in. (100 mm.) at the northern end of the Dead Sea and gradually increases to approximately 12 in. (300 mm.) annually at Lake Kinneret, the terminal area of the depression below sea level. North of Lake Kinneret, where the Rift Valley floor is well above the level of the Mediterranean, precipitation is 16 in. (400 mm.) annually, imparting to this section subhumid characteristics. The topographical conditions that influence the amounts of precipitation are also the major reason for the generally extreme temperatures and their variations in the Rift Valley. Geomorphologically more important than the temperatures themselves, which frequently reach the highest values within Ereẓ Israel, is the extreme evaporation potential they cause, which greatly influences the bedrock and the processes affecting it, particularly weathering. The abovementioned climatic conditions, together with particular lithological conditions (the high proportion of evaporites), have resulted in large parts of the Rift Valley being devoid of proper soil and vegetational cover, and these develop here only under specific hydrographic or hydrological conditions. The Jordan, for instance, from its exit from Lake Kinneret almost up to its debouchure, is accompanied by a dense gallery forest covering its floodplain. In the vicinity of springs and in areas where topographical conditions cause the formation of salt marshes a type of tree oasis is common.
Hydrographically, the Rift Valley is a vast endoreic basin (i.e., without a discharge outlet to the sea), presently in a state of equilibrium between the amount of inflow from its catchment area – about 15,500 sq. mi. (40,000 sq. km.) in area – and the amount of loss caused by evaporation and infiltration. The level of the Dead Sea, its discharge terminal, does not change in height appreciably from year to year. From the physiographical, and particularly morphotectonic, points of view, the portion of the Rift Valley within Ereẓ Israel may be subdivided into the following major units (dealt with here according to their south-north sequence, which to some degree also follows their genetical order of succession): Arabah, Dead Sea Region, Ḥuleh Basin, and the Jordan Sources Region.
North of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Eilat, the Great Rift Valley again becomes a continental feature. Its first portion here extends for about 100 mi. (160 km.) up to the Dead Sea, constituting the longest and largest Rift unit within Ereẓ Israel. It is relatively narrow, as its maximum width is only about 12 mi. (20 km.), and, according to its topography (especially its hydrographic conditions), it consists of two parts. The southern part, about 43 mi. (70 km.) long, ascends gradually from the Eilat coast to a divide between the latter and the Dead Sea about 600 ft. (200 m.) above sea level. From here the valley floor slopes down to below sea level in its last third and merges with the large salt marsh at the southern shore of the Dead Sea. This northern area is drained by the Arabah River and its many tributaries, whereas the southern area lacks any organized drainage, particularly any distinct river channel discharging into the Gulf of Eilat. Another significant characteristic of the southern portion of the Arabah is several major topographical depressions that function as discharge terminals for various very short, sporadic watercourses flowing in shallow, indistinct, rill-like beds and for the sheet floods occurring after each heavy rain.
The southern section of the Arabah is bordered by the coast of Eilat-Akaba, which is less than 6 mi. (10 km.) long and runs southwest-northeast. This coast differs in several respects from that bordering the Mediterranean. It is covered by coarse sands and shingle, created by the disintegration of magmatic rocks and Nubian Sandstone, which compose the mountains framing the Gulf of Eilat and the Arabah and by fragments of corals and associated organisms that populate the Gulf. The widely distributed beachrock consists mainly of pebbly material deposited on the coast by the rivers descending from the crystalline Eilat Mountains and their Transjordanian counterpart, the Edom Mountains, in addition to the above-mentioned organogenic material. After somewhat protracted or concentrated rainfall, the coastal part of the Arabah is frequently flooded. In the absence of discharge channels it becomes a kind of playa (i.e., salty marsh) that, after its ensuing desiccation, exhibits wide areas of polygonal clay shards encrusted by salt crystals. Farther north the floor of the Arabah is covered by detritus of various sizes reaching a depth of more than 3,300 ft. (1,000 m.). This layer has been deposited by numerous streambeds that carry only floodwaters (from Roded, Shekhoret, Amram, Reḥam, and Timna on the western enclosure and Yitm, Mulghān, and Muhtadī on the eastern one). Another very important depositional factor is slope wash and gravitational movements (rockfall, sliding, slumping, particle creep) that continuously take place on the mountain slopes flanking the Arabah, which lack stabilization by soil and vegetational cover. These slopes, as mentioned earlier, are lithologically heterogeneous. In the southern part of the Cisjordan Arabah, they are composed mainly of magmatic-metamorphic rocks and Nubian Sandstone (Eilat and Timna Massifs); farther north limestones and dolomites prevail. The Transjordanian side of the mountainous enclosure consists predominantly of crystalline rocks and Nubian Sandstone.
The floor of the southern part of the Arabah is not flat. It is differentiated by many rises and wide shallow depressions. The former originate in alluvial fans spreading out widely into the Arabah at the exits of all the valleys. The fans on the east side are generally more numerous, larger, and longer as a result of the larger supply of detritus. The abundance of this supply is conditioned by several factors. The mountains bordering the Arabah to the east are much higher than the Negev Highlands and receive far larger amounts of precipitation because of their westerly exposure. These two factors endow the watercourses descending from the eastern side with considerably greater erosive power. In addition, the bedrock there, which consists of crystalline rock and sandstones almost along the entire extension of this flank, is subject to intensive disintegration under the prevailing arid conditions and supplies the watercourses with the bulk of the coarse material that is borne down and deposited at their exit into the Arabah. Thus, on the east side an almost continuous detritus apron of coalesced fans envelops the bases and the lower slopes. Where the fans extend farther into the Arabah or meet fans formed by watercourses from the west side (generally smaller in size), rises or topographical swells originate. The floor between the rises is basin-like; runoff is deflected into these basins with consequent flooding and salt marshes of short duration are formed. In several of these basins (Avronah, Yotvatah, and Sa'idiyin are the largest), halophytic vegetation has developed and even trees are able to subsist on brackish subsurface water. Another characteristic of both the southern and northern Arabah is the relatively wide areas of dunes, particularly between the basins of Yotvatah and Sa ʿ īdiyīn.
The northern, larger part of the Arabah, which begins with a wide protrusion of the Paran Plateau into the trough valley, differs in several respects from the southern part. The latter is relatively narrow, limited on the east by the relatively straight and continuous fault scarps of the Edom Highlands and on the west by the irregular outline of the southern Negev Highlands with their many mountain outliers and riverhead cirques. The influence of faulting is less pronounced there. Conversely, the northern Arabah often widens into the mountains bordering it, which are in turn frequently interrupted by wide valleys intruding deeply into the confining mountain flanks. The most significant difference between the southern and the northern parts of the Arabah, however, is the presence of a river course almost throughout the length of the latter. It is very indistinct and erratic, functioning mainly as a collecting artery of the many tributaries joining it from the east and west. The existence of this relatively dense drainage net, although it carries flash-flood waters almost exclusively, precludes the existence of any major basins turning into a salt marsh or extensive dune areas. The bed of the Arabah River, several hundred meters wide, is not contained by any permanent or continuous banks and is defined mainly by the accumulation of pebbles and associated fluviatile material. It does not run along the median axis of this part of the Rift Valley, but consistently deviates westward due to the fans growing and spreading out from the eastern side of the valley. These fans receive more alluvial material than those spreading out from the Negev, due to the greater height, larger amounts of precipitation, and consequently greater erosive and tractive capacities of the Transjordanian affluents.
The northernmost part of the Arabah was covered in the Middle Pleistocene by the Lashon Lake. Its surface accordingly consists mostly of laminated, highly erodible marls. The Arabah River and several others (in particular the Amaẓyahu River, almost parallel in course to the former) have cut spectacular canyons into these sediments, accompanied by labyrinthal badlands. The Arabah River does not reach the Dead Sea through a clearly defined bed channel, but disappears in the Sodom playa – the salt marshes south of the Dead Sea – which is flooded periodically by any considerable rise of the Dead Sea and/or by the rivers that discharge into the Dead Sea. Only one river in this area, however, the Zered (Ḥasā ʾ) – delimiting Edom from Moab – has a direct debouchure into the Dead Sea. It drains an area in Transjordan that reaches heights of over 3,280 ft. (1,000 m.), receives over 10 in. (250 mm.) precipitation on the annual average, and is fed by numerous springs. Due to these factors, the Zered exhibits perennial flow up to its entrance into the Rift Valley, and after rains it discharges very large quantities of floodwater. A large spring is also located in that section of the valley through which the Zered flows, and this northeast corner of the Arabah (the region of Zoar) forms a sort of an enclave, characterized by plentiful, almost tropical vegetation.
The deepest part of the Rift Valley is covered by an inland sea about 50 mi. (80 km.) long, 10 mi. (17 km.) wide, and generally similar in shape to the rift lakes in East Africa. With no outlet to the sea and an inflow of river water balanced by evaporation from its surface area of over 380 sq. mi. (1,000 sq. km.), the salt contents of the sea (mainly magnesium, sodium, and calcium chlorides), carried as solutions by the rivers and the other sources of discharge into it (such as springs with a high mineral content), became progressively concentrated. This salt content now amounts to about 28–33%, depending on the depth of the water layer. The Dead Sea consists of two widely differing parts: a southern, small, and very shallow basin – 20 ft. (6 m.) deep – with a higher percentage of salinity; and a northern basin, over three times the size of the southern one, and considerably deeper than it – about 1,300 ft. (400 m.). The two basins are connected by a strait about 2 mi. (3 km.) wide, formed by the westward protrusion of the Lashon Peninsula into the sea. According to topographical and historical indications, the strait was formerly shallower and probably narrower, and it is assumed that in the geologically recent past the two basins were virtually separated. The Lashon Peninsula rises about 200 ft. (60 m.) above the Dead Sea and was probably formed by diapiric movements of underlying deep-seated salt masses (i.e., an upward thrust of salt deposits rendered plastic and mobile by the pressure exerted on them). Its tabloid surface consists of Lashon Marls, as do the steep sides of the peninsula, which are subject to strong wave abrasion. Except for its northern and southern coast and small stretches along its sides, the Dead Sea does not have any shore flats. It is almost immediately bordered along its entire length by steep slopes that sometimes protrude into the sea and form bold capes (Rās Fashkha, south of the site of Qumran, is the most pronounced). Conversely, many rivers, particularly those coming from the Judean Desert, create rather extensive deltas quite close to the exits of their canyons (Kidron, Daraja, the combined deltas of Mishmar, Ẓe'elim and Masada). These deltas impart to the western coast its sinuous outline, in contrast to the relatively straight coastline on the eastern side, where the deltas built out into the sea are fewer in number and generally far smaller in size. Thus, e.g., the delta of the Arnon River, second only to the Jordan in the amount of water it supplies to the Dead Sea, is small; when the sea is at its high-water stage, its waters even extend up to the river's canyon exit. Even less pronounced is the subaerial delta of the Zarqā Mā ʿ īn River, the third most important contributor to the Dead Sea. This variance in delta size seems primarily to be the result of the greater depth of the sea floor near its eastern coast, probably a consequence of the major fault line running close to it.
A singular relief feature found on the southeastern side of the sea is Mount Sodom. It rises over 600 ft. (200 m.) above the sea, with jagged, almost perpendicular slopes, close to the water line, and gradually slopes down on its western flank. About 6 mi. (10 km.) long, it is composed mainly of salt and gypsum layers capped by Lashon Marls. The mountain is of diapiric origin, i.e., salt and other evaporites have been squeezed upward along an elongated fault, thus uplifting the overlying sediments and then spreading them out sideways. The great solubility and erodibility of the evaporites, augmented by their strong tendency to form cracks as a result of the enormous stresses exerted on the rock masses when they are thrust up and intensively contorted, resulted in the formation of this almost unique mountain ridge. Closely spaced fissures (continually widened and deepened by solution), washout, and corrasion by gully waters created a multitude of pillar-like features ("Lot's Wife"). Their surfaces are pitted by innumerable hollows, crisscrossed by rills ("salt-lapies"); in their flank facing the Dead Sea caverns developed, one of them an actual cave, connected with the upper mountain surface by a chimney-like conduit. The interior of this cave exhibits a rich inventory of speleothems (stalactites, etc.), somewhat more elaborate than those found in limestone caves.
The Lower Jordan Valley
The Lower Jordan Valley morphogenetically represents the floor of the Lashon Lake laid bare after its recession. The valley of the Jordan progressively developed on this floor, as did the lowermost courses of its tributaries, which formerly discharged into the Lashon Lake. Hypsographical, lithological, and climatic conditions resulted in the formation of a unique riverscape, connected with and focused on the course of the Jordan River from its exit from Lake Kinneret to its debouchure into the Dead Sea. The Jordan and its tributaries are deeply entrenched in the layers of the Lashon formations, which thicken progressively southward. They did not succeed, although greatly aided by the innumerable gullies that developed on the former Lashon Lake floor, in dissecting and reducing it considerably, so that two distinct surface levels exist along the Lower Jordan Valley. The higher one, generally flat, featureless, and only moderately affected by river dissection, is the remnant of the Lashon Lake floor and is referred to as the Ghor (Kikkar ha-Yarden in Hebrew). On both sides it borders high and steep mountainous slopes, formed mainly by scarps and composed predominantly of hard limestones and dolomites. Near the Jordan course, however, the Ghor becomes intensively dissected by innumerable gullies that turn it into intensive and characteristic badlands. Tens of meters below the Ghor extends the alluvial valley of the Jordan formed by its vertical and lateral erosion and much narrower than the Ghor. The Jordan valley, in the narrow sense, consists of the riverbed, about 80–100 ft. (25–30 m.) wide when not in bankful or overflooding stage, and a discontinuous floodplain covered by a dense gallery forest. Walled in by the steep, intensively gullied badland slopes, it contacts the bases of the mountain slopes enclosing the Rift Valley in only a few places.
The length of the Rift Valley between Lake Kinneret and the Dead Sea is about 65 mi. (105 km.); the course of the Jordan along this part of the Rift Valley, however, is approximately 125 mi. (205 km.). The near doubling in length is the result of the river's intricate meandering, despite the great drop in height between its exit from Lake Kinneret and its entrance into the Dead Sea. Despite its tortuous course, the river's gradient and the velocity of its current are still quite considerable, endowing it with great erosive power – factors which are generally adverse to the full development of a meandering course. The intensive meandering of the Jordan – often cited as an example of the phenomenon – seems causally to be connected with the tributaries joining it, which built out progressively, growing fans into its valley, and thus deviate from its course. The rivers contributing the greatest amounts of discharge to the Lower Jordan are its affluents from the Transjordanian side: the Yarmuk contributes about 17 billion cu. ft. (480 million cu. m.) annual discharge, compared with about almost 18 billion cu. ft. (500 million cu. m.) of the Jordan flowing at their confluence; the Jabbok provides approximately 2 billion cu. ft. (about 60 million cu. m.); the Arabah River, over 1 billion cu. ft. (30 million cu. m.); and the other major tributaries contribute only 210–350 million cu. ft. (6–10 million cu. m.) Because the tributaries coming in from the western side of the valley discharge far less, the Jordan is permanently deflected westward. Another factor in determining the river's course is the larger amounts of river-borne material supplied by the eastern affluents (particularly at the flood stages), due to the greater height at which these rivers originate, the larger amounts of precipitation their catchment areas receive, and consequently their far greater erosive and tractive capacities. In addition, exceedingly large amounts of material are delivered to the river from the Rift floor, particularly from the badland zone. Since this material is deposited within the riverbed, where the current is extremely unequal, irregular, and frequently deviated in its course by the outbuilt fans, the large discharge injections are an additional major factor behind the meandering tendency. Finally, waste movements, activated by undermining the river erosion banks, or even – although far more rarely – by earthquakes, bring vast amounts of debris down into the riverbed. According to both historical and contemporary eyewitnesses, this activity has even caused temporary cessation of the river's flow for some time.
The Lower Jordan Valley is fringed on its eastern side by the high scarp-slopes of the Transjordanian plateaus, which are only insignificantly punctuated by the canyon exits of the rivers descending into the Rift Valley. Less linear in outline is the western enclosure, in which the Jordan tributaries created wide valleys, extending far into the eastern flank of the Judean and particularly the Samarian Mountains (ʿ Awjā and Fāri ʿ a Rivers). Some 18 mi. (30 km.) south of Lake Kinneret, the western mountain enclosure is broken by the tectonic valley of Beth-Shean, which begins the valley sequence traversing the width of Cisjordan. Hypsographically and climatically it represents a transition zone. The valley's level rises progressively from about 800 ft. (250 m.) below sea level at its eastern limit – the Jordan River – to about 300 ft. (100 m.) above sea level at its conjunction with the Harod Valley. Two surface levels exist within this embayment of the Rift Valley: a higher one adjacent to Mount Gilboa and predominantly composed of travertine, precipitated mainly from the many fault-conditioned springs at the base of this mountain; and an eastern, lower one, separated from the former by a step slope (now indistinct because of cultivation), merging imperceptibly with the Ghor. The Beth-Shean and Jordan valleys exhibit semiarid characteristics, mainly as a result of the amounts of precipitation (exceeding 12 in. (300 mm.) on the annual average). Conversely, the prevailing temperatures are still very similar to those in the southern part of the Lower Jordan Valley.
The Kinneret Region comprises Lake Kinneret (also called the Sea of Galilee or Lake Tiberias) and the narrow plains situated between it and the high, steep mountain slopes enclosing it to the west and east. To the south the plain into which the Jordan exits from the lake and in which the embouchure of the Yarmuk into the Kinneret is situated merges imperceptibly with the Beth-Shean Valley. The lake, however, covers a larger area – about 70 sq. mi. (170 sq. km.) – than all its surrounding plains combined. Lake Kinneret itself, whose maximum depth is only about 200 ft. (60 m.), was created by complex and protracted tectonic movements involving faulting and volcanic activities (the mountains enclosing the lake are to a large extent covered by basalts). These movements, which seem to continue to this day, as may be inferred from the earthquakes of considerable strength that affect the region from time to time (the town of Tiberias was heavily damaged and about 700 people were killed in the earthquake of 1837) and from the presence of hot springs (Tiberias, al-Ḥamma, the ancient Hammath-Gader, in the Yarmuk Valley). Another indirect source of evidence is the many mineral springs issuing from the lake bottom and contributing considerably to the relatively high salinity of the waters – 300 mg./liter. Fault lines are the main factor behind the pronounced asymmetry of the shoreline. Whereas the eastern shore, conditioned by a fairly meridional fault sequence, runs relatively straight, the western one curves out sharply due to crescentshaped fault lines. Asymmetry is also characteristic of most of the other features of the lakescape. Steep, high slopes rising almost immediately from the eastern and western sides of the lake face littoral plains on the opposite shores. The northern and southern shores of the lake are also very different in configuration. At its northern tip the Jordan River enters the lake in a complex braided course; several branches of it split up and join alternatively, uniting into a single bed only a small distance from the embouchure. The small river plain thus formed is the head of the al-Buṭayha (Bet Ẓayyada) Plain, which extends farther southeast and is composed mainly of the alluvial deposits of six small streams descending from the Golan Heights into the lake. South of this plain, and separated from it by a steep mountain spur, extends the shore plain of Ein Gev, dominated by Mount Susita and progressively widening and finally merging with the Yarmuk Plain.
In bold contrast to the northern and eastern sides of the lake, where alluvial plains are prograded into the lake, the southern shore is subject to incessant, strong abrasion and thus to regrading by the wave activity caused by the prevailing north winds. The recession of the shore is strongly aided by the high erodibility of the Lashon formation materials framing the lake. Into this bedrock, which also contains many basalt outcrops, the Jordan has cut its bed in a course that meanders almost from its exit from the lake. The west side of Lake Kinneret is fringed from the exit of the Jordan up to the debouchure of the Arbel River by a steep slope rising in several steps to about 600–800 ft. (200–250 m.) above the level of the lake – 700 ft. (212 m.) below sea level. A large littoral plain – the plain of Ginnosar – developed only at its northwest corner. This plain was created by the coalescence of deposits brought down from Eastern Galilee by several rivers (Arbel, Zalmon, Ammud).
Ḥuleh Basin and Jordan Source Region
At least two subsequent lava flows, descending from the Golan Heights into the Rift Valley north of the present Kinneret Lake and consolidating there, formed a basalt sill that dammed up the flow of the Jordan southward. A result of this stoppage was the formation of a lake whose waters quickly reached a level higher than the sill and finally began to overflow it. This process resulted in the formation of a riverbed incised progressively deeper into the basalt block, and the lake eventually became greatly reduced in surface area and depth. This reduction was probably accomplished in a relatively short time because of the considerable difference in height between the floor of the basin and the surface of Lake Kinneret that must have existed before the up-damming. At present the difference in height amounts to about 900 ft. (270 m.) over a distance of only 10 mi. (17 km.) – the steepest gradient in the Jordan's course, giving it great erosive power, despite the hardness of the basaltic bedrock (as evidenced also by the steepness of the banks along the bed cut into it). The Ḥuleh Lake, which was small – about 5 sq. mi. (14 sq. km.) – and only about 20 ft. (6 m.) deep, and the adjacent Hulatah swamps, which occupied an area of about 12 sq. mi. (30 sq. km.) covered by papyrus and kindred hydrophilic plants and populated by waterfowl, buffalo, etc., represented the natural remnants of the former lakescape. Drained off by the lowering, widening, and straightening of the Jordan bed and by artificial channels dug through the marshy areas in the 1930s – uncovering soils extremely rich in organic matter and thick layers of peat – the region underwent one of the most pronounced anthropogenous landscape transformations within Ereẓ Israel. At present it is one of the most intensively cultivated areas in the country (with the exception of a small reservation where the former conditions are preserved); however, it faces the problem of surface subsidence due to the progressive shrinkage of its underground, caused by the draining off of its interstitial water contents into the channels.
North of the former swamp area and lake, which occupied the lowest part of the basin, the land surface gradually rises to the Hills of Metullah, interposed between the Naphtali Range in the west and the Golan Heights in the east. This region is characterized mainly by its many watercourses – the headrivers of the Jordan: namely, from west to east: the Senir (al-Ḥaṣbānī), Dan, and Hermon (Banias) Rivers. All these rivers, as well as several brooks that discharged independently into the Hulatah swamps – like the Ijon (ʿ Ayyūn), which drains the basin bearing the same name farther north – are fed mainly by spring waters. The springs are partly supplied by rainfall and snow melting on the Hermon and fed by subterranean conduits, created by solution. The three above-mentioned headrivers, of which the Senir has the longest course, beginning at the northwest base of the Hermon, flow in deeply incised, precipitously sloped valleys in beds with very irregular gradients, which at times become highly steep and form waterfalls. There are several waterfalls along the course of the Hermon River and some smaller ones along that of the Dan. The most impressive waterfall within Cisjordan, however, is the Tannur ("Chimney") of the Ijon River near Metullah.
The Hermon River first joins the Dan, and only some distance from their confluence with the Senir does the Jordan River begin its course in a single bed. Before the swamps were drained, this united flow continued for only a small distance, after which the flatness of the basin bottom and the marshes covering it caused a division of the Jordan's course into several indistinct branches that discharged into the swamps and contributed to their existence. Thus the Jordan proper, in terms of the continuity of the river, and the singleness of its bed, began only at its exit from the Ḥuleh Basin. All these conditions were essentially changed by the draining of the Ḥulatah swamps and the regulation of the river courses discharging into it. The numerous watercourses perennially flowing down from the Hermon foothills, the Golan Heights, and the Naphtali Range – totaling an average annual inflow of over 26 billion cu. ft. (about 740 million cu. m.) – and the abundant springs (among them the largest in Ereẓ Israel) impart to the source region of the Jordan hydrographic characteristics infrequently encountered in the Levant.
Ijon Region The 8.5 sq. mi. (22 sq. km.) basin of Ijon (Marj ʿ Ayyūn) which is situated within Lebanon, is separated from the Ḥuleh Basin by the Metullah Hills. It represents the northernmost portion of the Rift Valley drained by the Jordan, and also of the endoreic part of the Great Rift Valley System. The basin is over 1,600 ft. (500 m.) above sea level and it also is a tectonically conditioned depression. It is much smaller than the Ḥuleh Basin, with which it shares some properties, particularly its considerable marsh areas and associated vegetation. On its north the Rift Valley continues in the Beqa, which divides the Lebano-Syrian region into two main physiographical parts: a western one (Lebanon, Ansariye, Amanus Mountains) and an eastern one (Antilebanon, Syrian Plateau). In this area as well, both structure and hydrography are largely conditioned by the Rift, but drainage is essentially different from that of the Rift Valley within Ereẓ Israel: the two collecting trunk rivers (Leontes and Orontes) flow in opposite directions and discharge into the Mediterranean.
The other main part of Ereẓ Israel, Transjordan, comprises the regions east of the Rift Valley from the Gulf of Eilat in the south up to the Hermon and the Damascus Basin in the north. The eastern confines of Transjordan are not marked by any distinct relief features, and most of it gradually merges with the Syrian Desert. Thus only the zone adjacent to the Rift Valley, where the climate is still Mediterranean to semiarid and the water-courses discharge into the Rift Valley, may actually be regarded as the eastern part of Ereẓ Israel, according to its definition as a major natural unit. The zone averages only about 25 mi. (40 km.) in width and has always been politically, culturally, and economically connected with and dependent upon Cisjordan. The Rift Valley is more than just an external disconnection between Cisjordan and Transjordan. In spite of their spatial juxtaposition and the relatively narrow Rift Valley separating them, several differences, although not fundamental, do exist between these two areas. These differences pertain to lithology, tectonics, and consequently to surface features. Lithologically, almost all rock formations (except for the kurkar outcropping in Cisjordan) are present in Transjordan, although their areal distribution varies greatly. Formations that form the bedrock of relatively small surfaces in Cisjordan cover large areas in Transjordan, and vice versa. For example, basement rock of magmatic-metamorphic origin, found almost exclusively in the southernmost tip of Cisjordan (the Eilat Mountains), constitutes the surface of a large section of southern Transjordan, extending about 60 mi. (100 km.) north of the Gulf of Eilat. The same is true of Nubian Sandstone and various massive sediments of Paleozoic origin. Similarly, volcanic formations, which are of major importance as surface rock in Cisjordan only in Eastern Galilee, cover much larger areas of Transjordan. North of the Yarmuk they form the almost exclusive surface rock and create in the Bashan a volcanic region, also in all the morphological aspects. Volcanic formations are also widely distributed farther south in Transjordan, i.e., in regions whose counterparts in Cisjordan are almost entirely composed of calcareous rocks. Although the latter is also the most widely distributed type of rock in Transjordan, its predominance in Cisjordan is far more outstanding. These facts, together with studies of tectonic features (mainly the prominence and continuity of the fault lines bordering the Rift Valley to the east), have recently led to the following hypothesis: the formation of the Rift Valley, which continued through several geological ages, involved horizontal displacement and a northward movement of about 60 mi. (100 km.) of the eastern flank of the Rift Valley, whereas the western flank was apparently not affected by a similar movement.
The lithological conditions described above are indicative, albeit indirectly, of tectonic variances between Cisjordan and Transjordan. In Cisjordan, beginning with the Central Negev, folding played a decisive role in determining structure and relief; in Transjordan it appears to have been of subordinate importance, although large-scale up- and downwarping participated in the formation of the region. In the interior of Transjordan, faulting did not produce the basins and tectonic valleys so characteristic of Cisjordan, where it formed the most pronounced features, culminating in the valley sequence of Beth-Shean-Haifa Plain and a large number of small individual regions. In no part of Transjordan did faulting, subsidence, and uplifting influence small-scale relief as strongly as it did in the Galilees. In a general morphological sense, Transjordan can be defined as a plateau, very uniform in surface configuration and elevations. As no large intramontane basins exist there, lowlands covered by alluvial soils can be found only in Ghor, east of the Jordan. The ascent from the valley to the plateau is extremely steep, almost wall-like, interrupted only by the gorges of rivers exiting into the Rift Valley. These gorges are so narrow and steep that nowhere do they provide convenient access to the surfaces of the plateaus.
It is probable that together with the subsidence of the Rift Valley, its eastern flank was subject to strong uplifting, which particularly affected the immediately adjacent zone. This theory would explain why the eastern zone reaches great heights and gradually slopes down eastward at a small distance from Rift Valley. Only the western zone was transformed into a mountainous relief by numerous deeply incised rivers; eastward, as the elevation gradually becomes smaller and the relief flatter, or only gently undulating, the plateau character of the terrain becomes more marked. Further east, the surfaces generally rise again, forming a sort of a broad rise where the major rivers that cut into the plateau and discharge into the Rift Valley originate. Only at Edom does the rise become a mountainous range, from which the plateau gradually slopes down eastward to the large desert basins at the border between Transjordan and Arabian Desert and the riverine lowlands of the Euphrates. This configuration, which represents the general watershed zone between the Rift Valley and the Syro-Arabian Desert, extends only up to the Yarmuk River, beyond which the landforms are primarily volcanic in origin.
The most significant topographical feature of almost all regions of Transjordan is thus the tablelands, which attain greater heights than those facing them on the west. This feature is accentuated by summits several hundred meters higher than the highest ones in Cisjordan. As the highest parts of the plateau almost abut on the Rift Valley, only a relatively narrow zone is effectively exposed to the rain-bearing, mainly westerly winds. This zone is only 20–30 mi. (30–50 km.) wide (broadening considerably only in the Bashan) and its climate is Mediterranean, although the amounts of precipitation it receives exceed those of the opposite regions in Cisjordan only in the highest areas of Edom – 16 in. (400 mm.) as against 2–4 in. (50–100 mm.) in the Negev Highlands. Another significant difference between this part of Transjordan and the highlands of Cisjordan is that most of the main rivers of Transjordan carry flow throughout the year, mainly as a result of the deep valleys reaching aquiferous strata and a large number of springs that feed the rivers.
Climatic and topographic conditions strongly influence the prevalence and distribution of soil types. Due to the relatively smaller areas of limestones and the narrowness of the zone receiving at least 16 in. (400 mm.) mean annual precipitation, the cover of terra rossa is less extensive and continuous here than in Cisjordan. Rendzina soils, ḥamra soils, and loess are not found frequently here. In contrast, however, large areas, particularly north of the Yarmuk, are covered by heavy soils produced by the decomposition of volcanic rocks. Alluvial soils form a rather continuous belt on the Rift Valley floor along the course of the Lower Jordan, whereas on the plateau, due to the narrowness of the fluviatile valleys and the absence of intramontane basins, the distribution of alluvial soils is rather patchy. Farther east and south, yellow and gray soils, peculiar to desert-like conditions, become more extensive. Topographic and more extreme climatic conditions produced the natural vegetational cover in Transjordan, which is considerably different both in character and in spatial distribution from that in Cisjordan. Whereas in the latter, whole regions were covered in early historical times by forests, which persisted for many centuries, relatively small areas south of the Yarmuk, characteristically including the highest parts of Edom (Seir), seem to have been forested.
Transjordan may be subdivided physiographically into four main regions and a transitional one. These are, from south to north: Edom, Moab-Ammon, Gilead, and Bashan. The Hermon Massif (which, because of its position, orography, and particularly hydrography, morphotectonically constitutes a part of the Antilebanon system) forms the terminal and transitional arch between the two flanks of the endoreic Rift Valley.
Like its western counterpart, the Negev, Edom is the longest unit of Transjordan. No major natural feature distinguishes Edom from the northern part of the Arabian Peninsula (the biblical Midian), whereas, on the north the Zered (Ḥasa ʾ) River – one of the major watercourses traversing the entire width of Transjordan and draining into the Dead Sea – forms a marked border between Edom and Moab. Nowhere else in Ereẓ Israel are basement rocks Paleozoic sediments, and particularly Paleo-Mesozoic Nubian Sandstone so widespread or exert such influence upon the landscape as in this region. Even the name Edom (red) is thought by some to be derived from the prevalent color of the granite and the predominant reddish-brown hues of the Nubian Sandstone. Farther east the formations are younger (up to Eocene) and the topography is progressively lower, so that structurally the area bears resemblance to a pan. This description applies particularly to the Maon (Ma'on, Ma ʿ ān) Basin in the centraleastern part of Edom, where this structure is strongly accentuated by a drainage pattern that converges centripetally toward its lowest part.
As in southern Sinai and the Eilat Mountains, the areas of crystalline rocks in Edom have serrated crenulated ridges and bold dome-shaped summits. The slopes of these ridges are very steep and their bases are buried in debris, mainly produced by weathering under arid conditions. The rock waste progressively fills up the valleys between the ridges and individual mountain blocks. Conversely, the parts composed mostly of horizontally bedded Nubian Sandstones form broad flat-topped ridges, frequently dissected into isolated blocks, mesas, and buttes (i.e., larger and smaller table-mountains, the uppermost beds of which consist of resistant rock that preserves the flatness of the surface). Their steep slopes are pitted by alveoli of various sizes and are strongly subject to disjointing, giving rise to pillar-like columns, mushroom rocks, etc. In contrast, the forms developed by the calcareous formations, which are far less subject to disintegration, usually appear massive, and generally exhibit characteristics of plateaus, mountain-like only where dissection by rivers was more intensive. The climate of Edom is like that of the Negev – as a whole arid. Nevertheless, several regions within it are still exposed to Mediterranean influence, due to their considerable height above sea level and still more – over 1,000 ft. (300 m.) on the average – above the Negev Highlands, which interpose between Edom and the sea. The mean annual precipitation on these summits therefore amounts to more than 12 in. (300 mm.), and even snow is frequent. The precipitation also accounts for the relatively dense drainage net, the rivers of which (with the exception of Zered) carry water only immediately following rain and in the form of flash floods. The great difference of elevation between the head areas of these rivers and the Arabah on the west and the topographical depressions (described later) into which the rivers discharge on the east endows them with very great erosive power, manifested in the deep, almost perpendicularly walled gorges and the very large debris fans at their mouths; these fans coalesce to form an almost continuous waste apron at the foot of slopes along the Arabah. Edom can be subdivided physiographically into the following three parts: Southern Edom, including the al-Ḥismā depression; Central Edom, generally referred to as the Seir (al-Shara ʾ), and including the Maon (Ma ʿ ān) Basin on the east; and Northern Edom, also called the Jebel (al-Jibāl) region.
Southern Edom The scarp slopes of the highland of Southern Edom rise abruptly above the Arabah. There are no major breaks in their continuity except for the valley exit of the al-Yitm River discharging into the Gulf of Eilat, which facilitated the construction of the only road (Akaba-Ma'on) traversing the entire width of the Edom Mountains. The plateau reaches heights of more than 5,000 ft. (1,500 m.) at a distance of no more than 6 mi. (10 km.) from the Rift Valley: Jebel Bāqir, 4,020 ft. (1,592 m.); Jebel al-Aḥmar, 5,220 ft. (1,588 m.). In Southern Edom the belt of basement rocks is the widest in all of Ereẓ Israel – about 12 mi. (20 km.) – as are the areas covered by sandstones. Within the latter zone lies the Ḥismā depression, an elongated, triangularly shaped, tectonically conditioned basin running northwest-southeast. It also contains the head-valley of the Yitm and merges gradually with the plateau of Midian. Considerably lower than the adjacent tableland, the floor of the basin contains a sequence of local depressions (sing. qā ʿ) that become saline marshes in the rainy season. Many plateaus bordered by steep slopes – the remains of a former continuous table-mountain surface – still stand high above the basin floor but are subject to incessant reduction by weathering and fluviatile erosion. Notwithstanding its much higher elevation, climatic conditions in Southern Edom are generally similar to those of the southern Negev, as evidenced by the scarcity of soil and vegetational cover and the complete lack of permanent settlement throughout historical times.
The central part of Edom, also referred to as the Seir Mountains (al-Shara ʾ), represents the area's largest region in both meridional and east-west extension. It is, except for the Hermon, the highest land unit within Ereẓ Israel, with large surface areas exceeding 3,500–5,000 ft. (1,200–1,500 m.) in height and several summits above 5,500 ft. (1,700 m.). In contrast to Southern Edom the Seir Mountains proper appear as a continuous range towering high above the Rift Valley, only 12 mi. (20 km.) from their summit region, and sloping down far more gradually towards the east to the Basin of Maon. Relevant lithological differences also exist between Southern and Central Edom. Basement rocks in Central Edom are less widespread than Nubian Sandstones or Mesozoic calcareous rocks, and most significantly the belt of highest elevations extends along the zone of sedimentary formations. Structurally the area differs from Southern Edom by its greater frequency of fault lines, which greatly contributed to the prevailing pattern in the magmatic zone of isolated mountains and to the frequent interspersing of areas composed of magmatic-metamorphic rocks with those consisting of Nubian Sandstones and even of Mesozoic calcareous formations. The Seir Mountains form a very distinct watershed between the relatively short watercourses descending to the Arabah and those – far greater in number – discharging into the Maon Basin in a very pronounced concentric pattern. Due to the extremely steep gradient of the westward-flowing rivers and the prevalently hard bedrock into which they are incised, their valleys usually form very deep and narrow canyons, at times widening into small, intramontane, cirque-like basins (e.g., the Wadi Mūsā at Petra, accessible only through the spectacular al-Siq gorge).
Central Edom rises about 1,900 ft. (600 m.) higher than the Negev Highlands and thus receives relatively large amounts of precipitation, rather frequently in the form of snow. Consequently areas covered, albeit patchwise, by productive soils and vegetation are abundant in comparison with Southern Edom, particularly in the vicinity of the relatively numerous springs. These conditions allowed for the existence of some permanent settlements in the area throughout most historical times, the most important of which was Petra (near the Mūsā spring), the famous Nabatean center. A great deal of natural and historical evidence also leads to the conclusion that up to the first decade of the present century some parts of the Seir Mountains were forested. Toward the east the slopes of the Seir Mountains descend into the Ma'on Basin, which is enclosed on the north by large outcrops of volcanic rock. As most of the precipitation that falls on the Seir Mountains runs off into this basin, whose floor is wide and flat, the valleys descending into it become progressively wider and indistinct after forming vast fans at their entrance into the basin. The widespread deposits of large amounts of alluvia brought by the rivers created considerable tracts of cultivable soils, particularly in the vicinity of Ma'on (Ma ʿ ān) the capital of Edom, throughout history.
Northern Edom, the Jebel (al-Jibāl) region, differs in many regards from Central Edom. Its mean elevation is considerably lower, although some summits still exceed 3,300 ft. (1,000 m.). There is no range-like alignment such as the Seir Mountains, but individual, small mountain bodies are separated by valleys, many of which have wide floors. The significant difference in lithology between the two areas is a major cause of this configuration. Crystalline rocks, widely distributed in the other parts of Edom and constituting the backbone of its structure, and the bulk of the ramparts sloping down to the Arabah occupy far smaller areas in Northern Edom than do sedimentary rocks. The scarp-slopes facing the Arabah consist mainly of Nubian Sandstone and are thus less steep than those composed of crystalline rocks. The greater erodibility of the Nubian Sandstone and certain other sedimentary rocks is also an important explanation for the relative prevalence of wide valleys in this area. The orientation of the valleys is largely determined by intensively developed and complex fault lines. Northern Edom also receives relatively considerable amounts of precipitation. Because of this factor, as well as the many springs, the wide valley floors, and the location, i.e., the relative proximity of the area to the core region of Transjordan (Gilead), Northern Edom became the most densely populated part of Edom.
The Edom Highlands descend gradually to the valley of the Zered River (Wadi al-Ḥasa ʾ), the first major river, deeply incised into aquiferous strata and draining a large catchment area – 675 sq. mi. (1,750 sq. km.) – far larger than any catchment area in Cisjordan. The Zered flows throughout the year, discharging into the Sodom Sabkhah (salt marsh), and its course traverses the whole width of the Transjordanian plateau south of the Dead Sea, with head rivers beginning as far as 45 mi. (70 km.) from the Rift Valley. The Moab-Ammon region is delimited on the north by the Jabbok (Nahr al-Zarqa ʾ) Valley – one of the most pronounced canyons in Transjordan. Morphologically, this area represents the most compact and homogeneous part of Transjordan. This effect seems mainly to be the result of lithological conditions, namely the prevalence of almost horizontally bedded sedimentary rock formations (sandstones and calcareous rocks) and larger areas of volcanic extrusions (even a major extinct volcano). The elevation of the plateau is relatively high, averaging 3,300 ft. (1,000 m.) with some summits exceeding 4,000 ft. (1,200 m.). Moab is separated from Ammon by the Heshbon (Hisbān) River and borders on the Dead Sea along its entire length. With the exception of the low, tabular Lashon Peninsula – morphogenetically a part of the Rift Valley floor – the plateau rises abruptly from the sea, with almost no intervening shore flats, so that it attains a height of 3,300 ft. (1,000 m.) at a distance of only 6–9 mi. (10–15 km.) from the Dead Sea in the southern portion of Moab and of 2,300 ft. (700 m.) at a distance of 6 mi. (10 km.) in the northern one. The ascent to the Ammon Plateau from the Jordan Valley bordering it on the west is much more gradual, although the mean elevation of Ammon is about 600 ft. (200 m.) greater than Moab.
The western parts of Moab and Edom – which are about 18 mi. (30 km.) wide – exhibit the main, albeit marginal, characteristics of the Mediterranean zone. Not only do relatively large amounts of precipitation – more than 24 in. (600 mm.) – fall on their higher parts, but the variations in the amounts of precipitation from year to year, so characteristic of the Edom, are far smaller. Due to the topography and the prevalence of calcareous surface rock, terra rossa and rendzina soils are relatively widely distributed and utilized. Also quite a large number of springs contribute to the perennial flow of the Arnon River, which drains most of Moab – 1,650 sq. mi. (4,460 sq. km.) – and subdivides the region into southern and northern Moab (almost equal in size). Similar hydrographical conditions are responsible for the perennial flow of the Zarqā ʾ, Mā ʿ īn, and Heshbon rivers. Topographic and climatic conditions and the considerable areas of cultivable soils, which in the past even produced grain surpluses, were reasons for the area being densely populated in comparison with the southern regions, a large percentage of the population being concentrated in several townships. One of these Rabbath-Ammon (Amman), the capital of the present Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, is connected to Jerusalem by a highway via Jericho. Kerak (Kir Moab), the principal town of Moab, Madeba, and most of the nearby villages lie along the highway running almost straight and parallel to the Dead Sea coast at a small distance from the prevalently wide watershed between the rivers draining into the Rift Valley and those discharging to the east.
The Jabbok (Zarqā ʾ) River – after the Yarmuk the most important tributary of the Jordan – whose catchment area is about 1,100 sq. mi. (3,000 sq. km.), with about 2 million cu. ft. (70 million cu. m.) mean annual discharge, divides Gilead from Ammon. Gilead represents one of the largest regions of Transjordan south of the Yarmuk, not so much because of its length – which, between the Jabbok and Yarmuk rivers, is 46 mi. (75 km.) – as by its width, which averages 35 mi. (60 km.). It exhibits some morphotectonic similarities to the central mountains of Cisjordan due to the influence exerted upon its morphogenesis by fold structures and by its mountainous appearance, resulting from relatively intensive dissection by rivers. The larger and higher southern part of the region is traversed by four major, perennially flowing tributaries of the Jordan: Rājib, Kafranjī, Yābis (Jabesh), and Siqlāb. In the northern part, which is only about 1,600 ft. (600 m.) high and is drained only by the Arab River, the relief is far less pronounced. The east-west oriented valleys of the rivers and of their many confluents – which are increasingly numerous farther east – give rise to a landscape of mainly short, interfluvial ranges composed of rounded hills whose slopes are terraced to a considerable extent. These ranges do not attain great heights; the highest summit in Gilead, Umm al-Daraj, is somewhat less than 4,100 ft. (1,250 m.). This configuration also reflects the prevalent lithological and climatic conditions. The southern part of Gilead is composed of mainly Cenomanian-Turonian calcareous formations, whereas in the northern one, younger (Senonian-Eocene), generally less resistant strata form the bedrock. Immediately south of the Yarmuk there are several outcrops of volcanic rocks – outliers of the Bashan basalt cover.
Despite its considerably lower elevation (than more southerly regions of Transjordan), Gilead receives the relatively largest amounts of precipitation – more than 20 in. (500 mm.) annual mean on most of the area, whereas in the highest regions in the south precipitation amounts to about 28 in. (700 mm.). Moreover, the 16 in. (400 mm.) isohyet, still the most useful means of delineating regions of Mediterranean-type from those of semiarid climate, runs here at a distance of about 30 mi. (50 km.) from the Rift Valley. Consequently, soils (mainly of terra rossa type) are rather common and extensively cultivated here, which again accounts for the population throughout history being much more dense than in other parts of Transjordan. There is strong evidence that considerable parts of Gilead were forested in the past. The area is relatively easily accessible from the Rift Valley, particularly along the Siqlāb Valley, where the gentle relief near the watershed greatly facilitates communication along the entire length of the region. The divide conditioned the site of a relatively large number of townships (ʿ Ajlūn in the south and Irbid in the north are the most important) and villages situated along or near the meridional highway and at the springs, particularly abundant in the plateau parts adjacent to the Rift Valley. In the past, Gilead was the region most closely connected with Cisjordan historically, particularly during the Roman era, when Geresh (Gerasha; Ar. Jarash), Arbel (Irbid), and Gadera (Umm Qays) formed part of the Dekapolis.
The deeply incised valley of the Yarmuk, the second largest river of Ereẓ Israel – with a catchment area about 2,670 sq. mi. (7,250 sq. km.) – forms a prominent natural border between central Transjordan and its northern region, Bashan. The latter covers about 4,600 sq. mi. (12,000 sq. km.) and differs in almost all physiographical aspects, primarily in morphotectonics and lithology, from the regions south of the Yarmuk. The landscapes of Bashan were formed mainly by volcanic activities that probably persisted from the Pliocene up to prehistoric times. Consequently, almost the whole of the Bashan is covered by extrusive rocks, in many places attaining a thickness of several hundreds of meters. The relief is also determined by these activities, which resulted primarily in vast plains built of consolidated lava sheets that are overtopped by elevations of eruptive origin. Large parts of the terrain still exhibit the characteristics of block fields. Others are covered by heavy soils formed through the decomposition of the basaltic bedrock or from the disintegration of the volcanic tuff. Since the Bashan is the northernmost region of Transjordan, and because its eastern most part is considerably high, the Mediterranean type of climate prevails over an area two to three times wider and extending far further east than the regions having a similar climate south of the Yarmuk. Topographically, Bashan can be subdivided into three major regions: Golan, Bashan Plain, and Hauran.
The plateau of Golan, situated between the Hermon Massif and the Upper Jordan Valley on the west and the Ruqqād River (a tributary of the Yarmuk) on the east, is only about 15 mi. (25 km.) wide. Its continuous steep slopes rise abruptly above the Ḥuleh Basin and are even steeper in the region of the sources of the Jordan, attaining heights of 3,300 ft. (1,000 m.) at a distance of only about 9 mi. (15 km.) from the latter. Morphotectonically the Golan represents a plateau of lava sheets whose prevalent flatness is accentuated by a number of isolated cones rising without any transitional forms above the vast surrounding plain. These cones are composed mainly of volcanic cinder and extend in a more or less straight line from north to south. This orientation indicates their causal connection with a meridionally running fissure system, along which they originated at spots where lava extrusions and cinder ejections were more intensive, persistent, or recent. The most pronounced of these cones are Tell al-Sheikha, about 4,000 ft. (1,300 m.) high, in the northern part of Golan and Tell Abu Nidā ʾ, which contains a crater with a circumference of about 2½ mi. (4 km.), followed by lesser ones (Tell Abu Khanzīr, Tell Yūsuf, and Tell Faras) in the south. In the northern part of Golan a small shallow lake of almost perfect oval shape, Birkat Rām, was in ancient times thought to be one of the sources of the Jordan connected with the Banias Spring by subterranean conduits. It is not, however, a crater lake – as was also formerly assumed, as a part of its enclosure consists of sedimentary rock – but is probably a depression produced by subsidence of pyroclastic material.
According to topographic and surface-rock conditions, two main subregions can be distinguished in the Golan Plateau: a higher, northern one, adjacent to the Hermon, and a considerably lower, south part, consistently sloping down to the Yarmuk Valley. Volcanic cones and extensive block fields with intermittent soil and plant cover characterize the former, whereas most of the surface of the latter is covered by extensively utilized heavy basaltic and tuff soils. Golan receives comparatively large amounts of precipitation, exceeding 32 in. (800 mm.) annual mean in some areas; consequently, large tracts were once covered by forests. Because of the amount of precipitation and the relative impermeability of the bedrock, it has a rather dense net of watercourses, although few of them flow perennially. The northern part of this net drains into the Jordan through a series of almost equidistant and parallel valleys. These are not yet incised deeply in the plateau proper and form gorges only at their entrance into the Rift Valley, where they can erode the far less resistant calcareous formations underlying the plateau basalts. A large part of the southern Golan belongs to the catchment area of the Yarmuk and is drained mainly by the deeply incised Ruqqād and its affluents. The western portion drains into Lake Kinneret in a series of short watercourses, the most important of which is the Samak River.
The largest and lowest regional unit of the Bashan – as indicated by its current Arabic name, al-Nuqra ("The Hollow"), the Bashan Plain is situated between the Golan Highlands on the west and the still higher Hauran Massif on the east. The plain is about 40 mi. (60 km.) wide and it is not uniform in elevation. Its slopes descend gradually both from north to south and from east to west where they abut on the Hauran. Unlike in the Golan, no volcanic cones were formed here, but the same difference exists between its northern and southern parts. The former contains large expanses of lava-block fields, whereas the latter exhibits an almost continuous cover of volcanic soils, which rendered the region one of the granaries of the Mediterranean lands in ancient times. Although it is on the leeward side of the Golan Heights, the Bashan Plain still receives an annual mean precipitation exceeding 16 in. (400 mm.) and its main rivers, Wadi ʿ Allān and Wadi al-Iḥrayr, affluents of the Yarmuk, flow perennially.
In the eastern part of Bashan, Hauran (the ancient Auranitis, now usually referred to as Jebel al-Druze), relief forms originating in volcanic activities are the most pronounced within Ereẓ Israel. This oval-shaped massif, about 60 mi. (100 km.) long from south to north and 25–30 mi. (40–50 km.) wide, is mainly composed of extinct volcanoes, many of which contain craters and rise to heights above 5,500 ft. (1,700 m.) – the highest summit is Tell al-Janynā, 5,900 ft. (1,800 m.). The massif exhibits two main levels: a lower – up to 4,500 ft. (1500 m.) – comprising most of its southern portion; and a northern portion – 650 ft. (200 m.) higher, in which the relief forms are also much bolder. Due to its height, the Hauran still receives considerable quantities of precipitation, and snowfall is frequent in winter. On the north and east the Hauran Massif is surrounded by lava deserts called al-ḥarra in the vernacular. They consist of consolidated "ropy" lava, which forms labyrinth-like serrated ridges of blocks separated by oblong depressions. Only the northwestern lava field, al-Lija ʾ (the ancient Trachonitis), is at least historically connected with Ereẓ Israel.
Morphotectonically, the Hermon Massif, the main source area of the Jordan and the northernmost element of the endoreic Rift Valley within Ereẓ Israel, is the southernmost part of the Antilebanon upfold system, strongly affected by faulting, uplifted along their lines, and thus turned into a pronounced horst structure. It is separated from the Antilebanon proper by the Valley of Zabadānī, where the source springs of the Barada River issue. This river irrigates the Ghūta (oasis) of Damascus. Composed predominantly of calcareous Jurassic strata, it forms an oblong dome-like mountain block whose three main summits rise to heights of 6,760 ft. (2,465 m.), 7,720 ft. (2,810 m.), and 7,350 ft. (2,680 m.) respectively. It exhibits a rather subdued topography of rounded summits separated by wide and flat saddles. Although the area receives a mean annual precipitation of more than 60 in. (1,500 mm.) and snow cover persists on its higher parts until August, its surfaces have not yet been affected by river erosion, with the consequent formation of deeply incised valleys and associated slopes, nor does it seem to have been glaciated in the Pleistocene as has been assumed.
Atlas of Israel (1970); E. Orni and E. Efrat, Geography of Israel (19804); D. Ashbel, Bio-Climatic Atlas of Israel (1948); C.R. Conder and H.H. Kitchener, Survey of Western Palestine (1881–83): K.O. Emery and D. Neev, in: Bulletin Geological Survey of Israel, 26 (1960), 1–13; M.G. Ionides, Report on the Water Resources of Transjordan and their Development (1940); Y. Karmon, The Northern Huleh Valley (1956); L. Picard, in: Bulletin Geological Department Hebrew University Jerusalem, 4 (1943), 1–134; A.M. Quennel in: Proceedings of the Geological Society London (1954), 14–20; I. Schattner, in: Scripta Hierosolymitana, 11 (1962), 1–123; G.A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (193125).
Ereẓ Israel is situated between subtropical arid (Egypt) and subtropical wet (Lebanon) zones. This location helps to explain the great climatic contrast between the light rainfall in the south and the heavy rainfall in the north in all three orographic belts: Coastal Plain, Western Mountain Ridge and Jordan Valley. In the rainy season the centers of the barometric depressions crossing the eastern Mediterranean from the west normally pass over Cyprus. Most of Egypt and southern Ereẓ Israel lie in and partly outside this area of cloudiness and precipitation, whereas northern Ereẓ Israel is nearer to the center of the vortex. The cyclonic depressions of the eastern Mediterranean are usually smaller, both in area and in axis length, than the Atlantic depressions. The difference in pressure between the center and the periphery does not exceed 10–13 millibars, with differences between highs and lows not exceeding 17–20 mb. Pressure gradients in winter storms in Ereẓ Israel, however, are just as steep as those in Europe or America.
In the winter, depressions arrive in Ereẓ Israel from the west along two trajectories. The first, of decisive influence on the climate of the country, comes from northern Italy along the Adriatic Sea to Greece and the Aegean Sea. There it divides into two sections, one leading to the Black Sea and the other to Syria. The second leads from southern Italy and Sicily to the central Mediterranean and thence to the southeastern corner of the Mediterranean and Ereẓ Israel. A rare path extends along the North African coast through Egypt to Ereẓ Israel. Depressions sometimes pass along a narrow belt from the Red Sea northward and cause sudden cloudbursts accompanied by torrential floods in the normally dry Sinai Desert, Negev, Jordan Valley, and Syrian Desert. Mediterranean depressions are prevalent in the eight months from October until early June, when cold air penetrates from Eastern Europe through the Balkans to the Mediterranean, influencing the activity of the depressions. Rainfall in the eastern Mediterranean, including Ereẓ Israel, is directly related to the intensity of cold airstreams over Eastern Europe in the winter. The lower the temperatures fall in Eastern Europe, the stronger the influence of the cold airstreams on the depressions moving into the eastern Mediterranean. A narrow belt of high pressure descends from the Balkans and pushes depressions lying to the east. If, simultaneously, a second area of high pressure zones, connected to the great Siberian winter high-pressure system, extends over northern Iraq and Turkey, the activity of the eastern Mediterranean depression increases. Depressions are followed by high pressures, normally centered over northern Syria and Turkey, which are usually connected to the winter anticyclones of central Asia. In such cases, cold air descends from the high mountains of Armenia, which, though warming in descent – sometimes through tens of degrees – is often cold enough upon reaching Israel to cause freezing and frost. Visibility is exceptional. Snowcapped Mt. Hermon and the mountains of Lebanon are then visible from Mt. Carmel – a distance of 60 mi. (100 km.) – and even from Tel Aviv and high points west of Jerusalem – over 100 mi. (nearly 180 km.) away. Barometric pressures are higher in winter than in summer, being low only on stormy days. The difference between winter and summer pressures is smaller in Ereẓ Israel than in Turkey or Iraq.
Lower summer pressures result from Ereẓ Israel's location on the western periphery of the extensive low-pressure system of southern Asia, which causes the Indian monsoon. There is a summer monsoon in Ereẓ Israel too, though it is not accompanied by the heavy precipitation typical of Indian monsoons. The latter, however, affect summer conditions in Ereẓ Israel. Normal monsoons in India result in normal summers in Ereẓ Israel; insufficient pressure gradients and abnormal Indian monsoons cause "abnormal summers" in Ereẓ Israel and the entire eastern Mediterranean. In a normal summer, strong, humid, westerly and northwesterly sea breezes prevail continuously for weeks or months, resulting in extensive dew formation. These are the "etesian winds" known to the ancient Greeks. Other airstreams arise only in the transition months of spring and fall, arriving chiefly from the hot and dry deserts in the east. These are the ḥamsin (or sharav) winds (see below). Sharav winds from July to October are abnormal in summer, indicating undeveloped Indian monsoons.
The frequency of depressions between October and May and their scarcity or total absence between June and September result in marked differences in cloud forms. Between October and May, or sometimes even June, all forms of high, medium, and low clouds occur. In summer only low clouds form through condensation of marine air currents ascending the mountain slopes. Toward the end of September, high ice clouds, then medium, and finally water-laden low cumulus clouds form. Summer clouds are also of the cumulus type, but they are higher than winter clouds. In summer low clouds also approach from the west, carrying more humidity than in winter, but they do not cause rain, lacking ice crystals and the necessary conditions for rainfall. Over high mountains, such as Mt. Hermon and the Lebanon range to the north, these summer clouds reduce penetration of the sun's rays. An afternoon mist that rises from the sea mostly covers the western, seaward slopes and valleys. Clouds over the mountains of Ereẓ Israel at night are very low, while during the day they occur at altitudes of 6,500–10,000 ft. (2–3 km.). Mist clouds are found in mountain valleys on summer mornings and disappear after sunrise. In Upper Galilee summer cloudiness exceeds that in the south, and morning mists are more prevalent. In the winter, cloudiness in the mountains exceeds that in the coastal region; the opposite is true in summer. The Jordan Valley differs from the rest of the country in this respect as few clouds occur even in winter.
There are no completely overcast days in summer: a quarter of the summer days are partly cloudy; the rest are completely clear. Mist occurs in the Coastal Plain in winter and the transition months. In the inland valleys, such as the Jezreel Valley, mists occur mostly in summer. Heavy morning fogs cover the coast on sharav days, while morning mists in inland valleys are the result of temperature inversion. Low places in the Jezreel Valley have mist on clear winter mornings and on summer mornings with no easterly wind. Unique fogs rise in the winter from the Ḥuleh Basin and the Dead Sea. The former is covered by heavy mists on cold nights; over the latter, fogs form after sunrise in the wake of depressions, when cold air flows in pushing the local air up the slopes of the Judean Mountains in the west and the Moab Mountains in the east. After sunrise, these fogs ascend to the mountains tops, over altitude differences of 4,000–5,000 ft. (1,200–1,500 m.). They reach Jerusalem late in the morning, thicken toward noon, and scatter in the late afternoon, though they sometimes remain until evening or even throughout the night. Fogs do not cross the mountain crests to the west, but remain stationary in the strong westerly wind as a westward-pointed wedge hundreds of meters thick.
Ereẓ Israel is a sunny country because of its location in the subtropical zone, its low degree of cloudiness, and its extensive desert areas. In the long summer days the sun ascends to over 80° above the horizon, and radiation reaches the ground in 98% of all potential hours of sunshine; in the winter the sky is cloudy, on the average, through half the day. The annual mean daily radiation is 5 million calories on each square meter. On a summer day it is about 7.5 million, on a clear winter day 3 million, and on a cloudy winter day 1 million. Few countries can compete with Ereẓ Israel in abundance of sunshine. Horizontal surfaces receive illumination of some 90 kilo-lux-hours at noon in summer, and an area perpendicular to the sun's rays receives over 130 k.l.h., nearly the absolute maximum the sun can provide. These quantities are reduced by one-third in the winter. Southern slopes as well as southern-oriented walls and rooms receive the greatest amount of sunshine in the winter. In other directions, no marked differences exist between the various seasons.
Rainfall normally begins in Ereẓ Israel in November, increases in intensity to about January-February, and decreases again to May, which is sometimes completely dry. First rains sometimes fall earlier and sometimes later. Likewise, the rainy season may end before Purim (March), though small quantities of rain may fall until Shavuot (around the end of May). Most of the rainfall, some 72% of the seasonal total, occurs in December, January, and February. Five types of yearly rainfall can be discerned: (1) normal, with even distribution; (2) rainy in early winter and dry in its second half; (3) dry in early winter and rainy later; (4) heavy rains in the middle of winter with relatively dry early and late seasons; (5) twin – (or even multiple) – peaked season, with dry intervals between peaks. The first type occurs in Jerusalem in about 33% and in Haifa in some 42% of the winters. The second type is found in Jerusalem and the Judean Mountains in about 20% of the winters and only in 6% in northern Israel. The third type is more frequent in the north (31% in Haifa) than in the south (13% in Jerusalem). The fourth type is rare, occurring in 2–3% of all years. The fifth type is most frequent in the Judean Mountains (35%), with some 24% in Haifa. Regional differences in rainfall are much larger in Ereẓ Israel than in other countries of comparable size. In Israel there is an absolute desert with under 1.2 in. (30 mm.) rain per annum – the Arava: semi-desert areas with 2–3 in. (50–75 mm.) to 6–8 in. (150–200 mm.) – the Negev and Dead Sea Valley; agricultural regions with 12–18 in. (300–600 mm.): and mountain areas with 20–32 in. (500–800 mm.) in Judea and Samaria and up to 44 in. (1,100 mm.) in Upper Galilee. Mountains receive more rain than the Coastal Plain or the Jezreel Valley. Amounts of rainfall increase from south to north in all regions: the Coastal Plain, the western and eastern mountain ridges, and the Jordan Valley. Similarly, the number of rainy days in northern Ereẓ Israel exceeds that in the south. In dry years both the amount of rain and the number of rainy days are reduced; in very wet years both may be doubled. Most cultivated areas are those with over 12 in. (300 mm.) rainfall per annum. Contrary to common belief, the amount of rainfall in agricultural areas in Ereẓ Israel is no less than that in agricultural countries in the temperate zones. The difference lies not in the annual amount of rain, but in the number of rainy days and in the intensity of rain per hour or per day. In Ereẓ Israel the entire annual amount falls in 40 to 60 days in a season of seven to eight months. In temperate climates precipitation occurs on 180 days spread over 12 months.
The formation and amount of dew are dependent both on meteorological conditions – relative humidity and nocturnal cooling – and on the properties of the cooling surfaces – soil and vegetation. The regional distribution of the number of dew nights and the amount of dew is greatly diverse. Richest in dew are the northwestern Negev and the western and central Jezreel Valley, followed by the Coastal Plain from Gaza to Binyaminah. The central Ḥuleh Basin and parts of the lower Beth-Shean Valley also have large amounts of dew. The Golan and the Naphtali Mountain slopes, which are dry on most nights of the year, surround them. Hilly coast regions (Mt. Carmel), regions near the mountains (Western Galilee), and the Jezreel Valley have smaller amounts of dew and fewer dew nights per month and per year. Still smaller is the amount of dew in the mountains of Jerusalem and Galilee. The eastern slopes of the mountain ridge descending into the Jordan Valley, as well as the western foothills, receive smaller and sometimes negligible amounts of dew. The Carmel foothills and those of western Galilee, Ephraim, and Judea have almost no dew at all. The mean annual number of dew nights exceeds 200 in the entire Coastal Plain and the Jezreel Valley and 250 in the northwestern Negev. The mountains have only 150–180 dew (and fog) nights per year; the western foothills have 100, and the Jordan Valley (excluding lower Beth-Shean Valley and central Ḥuleh Basin) has fewer than 50. An abundance of dew is important for agriculture and settlement. For example, as a result of the dew formation on most summer nights, the vicinity of Khan Yunis in the western Negev, which receives only scanty winter rainfall, is a center for growing watermelons, a typical summer crop. Unirrigated summer field crops (sorghum, corn, and sesame) can be grown only in areas with sufficient dew.
In certain mountain areas snow is a normal occurrence. Mountains of 2,500–4,000 ft. (800–1,000 m.), such as those of Hebron and the Upper Galilee – elevation 4,000–5,500 ft. (1,300–1,700 m.) – have snow nearly every year. Mt. Hermon, rising to some 10,000 ft. (3,000 m.) above sea level, receives most of its precipitation as snow, which feeds a relatively large number of perennial streams. Most snow falls in Ereẓ Israel in January or February, but it has been known to occur in November and December and even in March and April. The heaviest snowfall recorded in Jerusalem in the last century was 38 in. (97 cm.) in February 1920.
Air temperature depends on elevation and distance from the sea. Valleys have higher, mountains lower mean temperatures; the higher the location, the lower the air temperature. The highest temperatures are recorded in the Rift Valley, a few hundred meters below sea level, with peak temperatures in the Arava, south of the Dead Sea. The lowest mean temperature is found in Upper Galilee. The mean annual temperature in the coastal regions is 68°–70° f (20°–21° c) with differences between coastal plains that are near mountains and coastal plains that are not. Haifa has lower temperatures than Acre, Netanyah or Tel Aviv. Coastal temperatures vary only slightly in summer, and even in winter their fluctuations are smaller than elsewhere. The Maximum temperatures in summer are not high and winter minima not very low. Fluctuations increase with the distance from the sea; the maximum rises and the minimum decreases markedly. The annual mean temperature is 3° c lower in Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv – difference in elevation 2,624 ft. (800 m.) – but in the winter the difference is larger.
The annual means in the Jezreel Valley and the Coastal Plain are similar, but monthly fluctuations inland, as well as differences between maximums and minimums, are larger than on the coast. Temperatures are lower in the Ḥuleh Basin than around Lake Kinneret or the Dead Sea. The mean annual temperature at the southern end of the Dead Sea is 78.3° f (25.7° c); at the northern end, 74.3° f (23.4° c); at Tirat Ẓevi 71.6° f (22.0° c); and at Kinneret, 72.1° f (22.3° c). The annual mean in the Ḥuleh Basin is similar to that on the coast – 67.8° f (19.9° c) – though the extremes differ widely. Great climatic differences are hidden by a similarity of mean annual temperatures; evaluation of climatic conditions must also take into account the extremes of diurnal cycles and of hourly differences.
Regional differences are most outstanding in the daily temperature cycle. On the coast temperatures reach their maximum values long before noon. The sea breeze prevents any further increase and the temperature remains almost constant until late afternoon. A flat ridge thus replaces the temperature peak. The same is true of the minimum at night, which lasts for several hours after midnight. But, with increasing distance from the sea, both maximal and minimal temperatures decrease in duration. In the Jordan Valley the diurnal cycle is different. Near the northern Dead Sea in the summer there are two peaks. There is an early morning and a late afternoon maximum near the Dead Sea. At Ein Gev on Lake Kinneret the two daily peaks are less developed but still quite prominent. Along the entire Jordan Valley the afternoon peak in temperature results from the adiabatic warming of the westerly wind that descends from the western mountain ridge into the deep Jordan depression. On the southern shore of the Dead Sea the cycle is similar to that near the Mediterranean coast, but the basis temperature values are entirely different. The mountains to the west of this area are not as high and adiabatic heating of the descending air does not increase the temperature above that prevailing locally. The shallow water at the southern end of the Dead Sea has an equalizing effect on daytime temperatures and also maintains high values at night.
A ḥamsin, or heat wave, occurs when depression approaches Israel from the west, with easterly winds backing first to south and later to west. It is broken when cool and humid maritime air replaces the hot air; when this occurs temperatures may fall by 45° f (20° c) or more. During a ḥamsin the temperature always rises and the humidity decreases. In midwinter, clear days with temperatures rising by 10° c or more in a day are a pleasant phenomenon. Such a temperature rise in spring or fall, however, is far from pleasant, since air temperature may reach body temperature. Mountains are hit first by a heat wave and, although temperature rises are relatively small, it is felt strongly because it lasts longer than in the valleys near sea level. When a ḥamsin reaches the valleys temperatures are always higher than in the mountains and reach the absolute maxima recorded in Ereẓ Israel. In May and June and in October and November there are often such severe days with high temperatures. But they may occur in the rainy season, with its centers of low and high pressure arriving from the west.
Another type of ḥamsin develops with rising barometric pressure under anticyclonic conditions. A northeasterly wind, turning easterly, blows toward the area from a center of high pressure over Iraq, Syria, and sometimes also Turkey. Such a strong east wind in winter is referred to in the Bible as kadim (e.g., Ex. 10:13; Ps. 48:8; Jonah 4:8). Owing to the very low humidity, the air is very clear. At first the temperature is low, but it rises daily while the air becomes both dry and hazy. When pressure begins to fall, the conditions are similar to those occurring in a depression ḥamsin, but an anticyclonic ḥamsin is not only as hard to bear, but it is often stationary and of longer duration. The action of the sun's rays is weakened during such days, and there is only a slight wind. Humans and other warm-blooded creatures feel unwell because the normal functioning of the body's cooling processes are impaired. Delicate winter plants wither in a spring ḥamsin because high evaporation causes excessive loss of moisture and the winter green vanishes as if by magic. The ḥamsin is harder to bear near the coast than in the mountains, chiefly because of the high relative humidity of the hot air, which prevents the evaporation of perspiration.
Every barometric depression is followed by a high-pressure system generally centered over Syria or Turkey. Air flowing in from the northeast usually comes from Siberia in winter, reaching Ereẓ Israel after some warming over the mountains of Armenia, Iran, and Turkey, or, if coming from the north, northwest, or west, over the Black and Mediterranean seas. Such cold waves bring air at a temperature of 14°–19° f (-7° to -10° c) to the Euphrates Valley and 23° f (-5° c) in the Transjordanian Mountains. Each cold wave from the east penetrates first into the Jordan Valley before reaching the Western mountain ridge. In such cases, temperatures near the Dead Sea start to fall some 12 hours earlier than in Jerusalem. The danger of frost in winter is thus greater in the northern Jordan Valley than in the western valleys or the Coastal Plain.
The highest temperature ever recorded in Israel was 131° f (54° c, Tirat Ẓevi, Beth-Shean Valley, June 1942). On the same day the temperature was 122° f (51.5° c) at the Dead Sea, 113° f (45° c) on the Coastal Plain, and 118° f (48° c) in the Jezreel Valley. In the mountains, temperatures exceeding 111° f (44° c) have not been recorded for the past 100 years. In most heat waves, temperatures rise to 110°–113° f (43°–45° c) in the Jordan Valley and 97°–100° f (36°–38° c) on the Coastal Plain; 100° f (38° c) is considered very hot for the mountains. The lowest temperature recorded in Jerusalem in the past 100 years was 19.4° f (−7° c). Even in the Jordan Valley 28°–32° f (-2° to 0° c) was repeatedly recorded. The Coastal Plain, however, seems to be immune to frosts; only twice on record did temperatures fall below freezing. In early 1950, all of northern and central Ereẓ Israel down to the Mediterranean was covered by snow.
The relative humidity of the air is highest near the coast and higher at night in summer than in winter. Humidity reaches its daily minimum around noon. Mountain areas are drier, and the humidity there in winter exceeds that in summer, in spite of the dry easterly winds. Conditions in the Jezreel Valley are similar to those near the coast, with high nocturnal humidity in summer. Humidity is lowest in the Rift Valley, especially in the Arava, and around the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea has higher humidity at the northern end than at the southern end; but the diurnal cycle is different at each end. In all areas the daily cycle is simple, with a minimum at noon and a maximum late at night or throughout the night. At the northern end, however, the relative humidity rises to its maximum at noon in summer when the Dead Sea breeze lowers the temperature. In the afternoon and near sunset, when temperatures reach a maximum, the humidity is minimal due to the western breeze that warms up while descending into the valley.
Absolute humidity in the valleys is higher than in the mountains. The Coastal Plain not only has a high relative but also a high absolute humidity, which causes physical discomfort in summer. Absolute humidity near the Mediterranean is similar to that near the Dead Sea, or even exceeding the latter in summer, although temperatures near the coast are lower. In the Beth-Shean Basin the absolute humidity is also high because of the very high summer temperatures. Since a low humidity facilitates evaporation of perspiration, conditions in the mountains are more pleasant.
Simple wind conditions prevail on the Coastal Plain. In summer, a sea breeze blows all day and a land breeze blows at night. Wind conditions on clear winter days are similar to those in the summer, but when a barometric depression covers the sea, easterly winds blow at first, slowly backing to the south and southwest. These winds bring clouds and sometimes rain from the sea, until northerly winds disperse the clouds and the sky clears. In summer northwesterly winds blow over the mountains for weeks and even months on end. The strength of the wind rises from near calm in the morning to a maximum in the late afternoon. Local winds are rare in the mountains, where mainly regional winds blow. These winds are dependent upon pressure distribution around centers of high or low pressure. Local winds occur in summer around the lakes of the Jordan Valley as well as near the Mediterranean. The latter receives the sea breeze throughout the day, while the inland lakes generate land breezes only at certain hours. This is a result of the Mediterranean breeze neutralizing all local activity on reaching the Jordan Valley, so that even the lakes become involved in the general climatic conditions. The landward breeze from the lakes is of biological importance in the hot season. The Mediterranean's sea breeze generally has a cooling effect; but upon descending into the valleys lying hundreds of meters below the surrounding mountains and even below sea level, the breeze undergoes such a rise in temperature that, instead of cooling, it heats the area. In summer the westerly winds in the entire Jordan Valley are thus hot and dry. The biological cooling effect of the westerly winds in the Jordan Valley seems to vary. A moist and perspiring body is cooled by it; but upon drying, only the effect of moving air remains, imparting a false sensation of cooling.
Weak winds prevail in the Coastal Plain, the Jezreel Valley, and the Negev. The mountains and the Rift Valley, especially the southern Arava, experience strong winds. Average wind force is higher in summer than in winter throughout the country; but in a winter storm, velocities in January and February equal or surpass those in the summer. Isolated cases of high winds in winter often lead to a general impression of high winter averages. Wind speeds may reach 50 mph. (80 kph.) and even more in winter, but between storms near calm may prevail. In summer, on the other hand, strong winds blow regularly at certain hours. While these are not as strong as the winter storms, summer averages are generally higher than winter ones. In the Manarah ridge in Upper Galilee, e.g., winds of "winter force" blow on summer days, especially at dusk. The diurnal cycle of wind strength in the mountains reaches its maximum in the afternoon, and on the coast and in the Jezreel Valley at noon. Mornings are usually calm in most areas of the country, as are nights, except in the mountains and the southern Arava.
history of climate research in israel
Scientific climate research in Palestine started in the mid-19th century. The first instruments for weather observation were used at the English Hospital in Jerusalem in 1845, where regular observations were taken until World War i. The records of the first 14 years have been lost, but those for 1860–1913 have been preserved intact. The Scottish Mission also took observations at various places, which were supervised from 1860 by the Palestine Exploration Fund and its meteorologist, G. Glaisher (until 1903). M. Blanckenhorn took meteorological observations for the Deutscher Palaestina-Verein from the mid-1890s.
The first results of these observations are assembled in F.M. Exner's work Zum Klima von Palaestina (1910), including the first rainfall map of Ereẓ Israel and the adjacent areas. French and American convents, schools, and scientific institutions also set up meteorological stations in Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon. Jews entered the field of climatic research in Ereẓ Israel only in the 20th century. In 1910 the Palestine Office of the World Zionist Organization set up rainfall stations in several towns and villages. Soon after World War i Dov Ashbel set up a network of meteorological stations in Jewish villages from Metullah to the Negev, and a number of stations were installed by the British Mandatory administration. Meteorological research after 1937 was conducted at two centers. One was at the meteorological station maintained by the government Department of Civil Aviation at Lydda Airport, where upper-air conditions were studied with advanced technical equipment. The other was run by the department of meteorology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which controlled the network of meteorological stations in Jewish settlements. The government set up stations in parts of the country populated by Arabs, formerly inaccessible to Jewish research. During World War i, the opposing air forces studied upper winds and upper-air meteorology in Palestine. In World War ii, the Allied air forces in the whole Middle East theater systematically collected a mass of meteorological data resulting in a revision of concepts of the conditions in the area. The network of Jewish stations was extended in the latter years of the Mandate.
After the establishment of the State of Israel, both the civil authorities and the Israeli Air Force developed meteorological operations on a national scale for both civilian and military needs. These operations include extensive upper-air observations with radio-sondes as well as meteorological satellite research in collaboration with other countries. The universities in Israel, especially departments of geography, earth science, and geophysics undertook extensive research on climatic conditions for human needs. Their research placed Israel in the front ranks of meteorological and climatic research in the academic world.
D. Ashbel, Aklim Ereẓ Yisrael le-Ezoreha (1952); E. Orni and E. Efrat, Geography of Israel (19804), 105–25; F.M. Exner, Zum Klima von Palaestina (1910); H. Klein, Das Klima Palaestinas auf Grund alter hebraeischer Quellen (1914); Atlas of Israel (1970).
The Precambrian Basement
Upper Tertiary to Recent faulting and uplift led to many exposures of the basement rocks along the flanks of the Arabah graben, the southeastern corner of the Dead Sea, the Eilat area, and eastern Sinai. The morphology of the Precambrian basement rocks is characterized in Sinai and in the Ḥejaz, situated opposite Sinai, by a conspicuously barren and rugged relief (e.g., Mount Sinai, Wadi Yitm), contrasting remarkably with the tabular landscape of the Paleozoic-Mesozoic sedimentary cover. Varieties of granite and granite-porphyry, syenite, diorite, and gabbro, interchanging with gneiss and mica schists, constitute the principal plutonic and metamorphic basement rocks. Volcanic tuffs and lava sheets also occur, as well as abundant acid and basic dikes. Swarms of dikes invade the whole of the crystalline complex, as well as the unmetamorphosed sediments of the Saramūj series.
The Saramūj series consists principally of multicolored conglomerates analogous in rock character and deposition to the Molasse and Verucano of the Alps. Like these Alpine formations the Saramūj series are of simple fold structure, giving reason to assume strong mountain building during the late Precambrian. The Precambrian "Alps" were then leveled on a regional scale, only a few monadnocks remaining on the enormous erosion and abrasion surface of the Lipalian peneplain. Ore deposits of economic importance have not yet been discovered in the basement complex. The feldspar-, barite-, and mica-bearing pegmatites are of very limited economic value.
Above the Lipalian peneplain (principal unconformity) there is an extensive cover of continental and marine sediments of Paleozoic to Recent age. The sedimentary material is derived either from a landmass in the east, the "Arabo-Nubian" shield, or from the transgressive "Tethys" sea in the west. The few marine Lower Paleozoic outcrops known from Timna, Eilat, and Petra or from Wadi al-Ḥasa ʾ and Zarqā Mā ʿ īn at the Dead Sea all appear as thin beds of shallow epicontinental limestone-dolomite, shales, and littoral sands; these are intercalated between sandstones hundreds of meters thick. This continental, as well as littoral, sandy complex is included in the Nubian Sandstone. Reminiscent of the "Old Red" of Europe or the "continental intercalaire" of Africa, the Nubian Sandstone has built the impressive colorful rock escarpments of Petra and the eastern cliffs of the Dead Sea. Erosion and corrosion have sculptured these sandstones to fantastic rock forms, especially well developed in the Ḥismā plains and in the Wadi al-Rūm of the Ḥejaz province. It is also in this region that the complete atmospheric disintegration of the Nubian Sandstone has supplied the sandy fillings of the present extensive valleys of the Ḥismā; in the region outside our map it has provided the material for the large belts of dunes of the Ḍahna and Nafūd of inner Arabia. Copper of an average 1.5% is found as a cementing carbonate in the Paleozoic Nubian Sandstone and is mined at Timna. In the same area, manganese deposits have been mapped (mostly psilomelane) but their economic value is still under discussion.
Dating the Nubian Sandstone is a persistent difficulty, particularly where there are no marine intercalations. This is the case in the Arabah and Dead Sea graben. Thus in the north-south canyons and steep western slopes of Moab, Sodom, and Midian and in the area opposite, between Eilat and Timna, Triassic and Jurassic marine interbeds are remarkably absent. There the massive sandstone rests directly on the Precambrian or the marine Lower Paleozoic Cambro-Silurian beds and is overlaid by marine Cenomanian strata. In this part of the country the Nubian Sandstone may therefore be of any age from Paleozoic to Mesozoic. Fossil plants found in the uppermost layers of sandstone (here somewhat clayey and shaly) are of continental Lower Cretaceous or Wealden character. Genuine marine Triassic in the Transjordanian part of our map is known from the surroundings of the northeastern corner of the Dead Sea and from the deeper wadi-cuts of the Jabbok River. In the high Negev of Sinai and Israel, Triassic is exposed in the erosion windows of Mt. Arif and Ramon. The predominantly calcareous, occasionally marly beds display lithological affinities with the "Germanic" epicontinental Trias – the Muschelkalk – though their fauna also contain many "Mediterranean" elements. Quasi-continental conditions during the Upper Triassic led to the deposition of gypsum evaporites and to faunistically sterile dolomite varves and Keuper-like variegated marls. The lowermost outcropping strata of the marine Triassic again appear in the "Nubian" facies.
Marine Jurassic is recorded from the neighborhood of the Triassic outcrops of Transjordan and on the Cisjordanian side from the anticlinal cores in Makhtesh Ramon, Ha-Makhtesh ha-Gadol and Ha-Makhtesh ha-Katan; yet none of the calcareous and marly epicontinental formations of the Jurassic or Triassic in Transjordan and in the Negev are completely devoid of sandy intercalations, demonstrating shallow sea conditions in the vicinity of a dune-framed continent. At Ramon, terrestrial influence is also marked by residual deposits of bog-iron and flint clays (up to 55% Al2O3) at the Jurassic-Triassic boundary, as well as by a few hundred meters of continental Nubian Sandstone containing some thin intercalations of marine Jurassic. Striking gravel formations recorded from the Jurassic-Cretaceous transition beds of the Ramon in the Negev, as well as of the Lebanon, indicate uplift and widespread erosion at the end of the Jurassic.
The Ramon outcrops are finally distinguished by numerous trachytic dikes and sills of possibly Upper Jurassic age, since they penetrate both Jurassic and Triassic sediments. The syenite-essexite plutonics of the anticlinal core have also been assigned to the Jurassic. The "intermediary" magmatics differ somewhat in rock type from the more basic volcanics, which are extensively represented in the Hermon-Lebanon mountains. In contrast to the continental and epicontinental Jurassic of the Negev and Transjordan, the Middle and Upper Jurassic of Lebanon and Hermon are developed as a 1,000–1,500-meter-thick marine complex prevalently of dolomite and limestone, suggesting deposition in an oceanic basin fairly remote from shore and land.
The recent material obtained from oil-exploration drilling in Israel leads to the conclusion that the Mid-Upper-Jurassic marine sedimentary troughs of Lebanon-Hermon extended south and southwest to Galilee, Carmel, Judea, the Coastal Plain, and the western Negev lowlands. The continental sphere of influence during this period is restricted to the Negev proper and to Transjordan. This paleogeographic zoning of sedimentary conditions persists to a greater extent in the following epoch, during the Lower Cretaceous. Thus in Transjordan and in the Negev-Arabah, the principal representative of the Lower Cretaceous is a uniform sandstone of continental habitus assigned in the map to the "Nubian" complex. Mostly regarded as the time-equivalent of the Wealden, this Lower Cretaceous Nubian Sandstone (kaolinic at the base) is again well exposed in the erosion windows of Ramon, the Makhtesh ha-Gadol, and the Makhtesh ha-Katan. There are, howevever, a few thin marine intercalations.
In the western regions, in the Coastal Plain as well as on Mount Carmel and in Galilee, evidence of the hegemony of the Tethys sea during the Lower Cretaceous is found in the cuttings and core samples from the recent wells at Ḥeleẓ, Tel Ẓafit, Moẓa, Zikhron Ya'akov, Caesarea, Haifa, Ein Na'aman (Kurdāna), Mount Tabor, and Tiberias, as well as in the out-crops of central and northern Galilee (Sartaba-Tabor, Bet Netophah, Har Ḥazon, Har ha-Ari, Manarah) and of eastern Samaria (Wadi Māliḥ-Fāri ʿ a). The lithology of the Lower Cretaceous is predominantly marly and occasionally sandy. Limestones are less frequent and like the other formations are of shelf and littoral character. The presence of lignite in the sandy beds also indicates the proximity of the continent. The abundance of hydroxides and oxides of iron gives the Lower Cretaceous rocks of Galilee their dominant and characteristic brown colors. Enrichment in a shallow sea led to the deposition of oolitic iron ores. The best ore (28% Fe) was found in the "minette" of the Aptian of Manarah in northernmost Israel (30,000,000 tons of minable ore have been evaluated).
Whereas the Triassic, Jurassic, and Lower Cretaceous appear in restricted outcrops in the anticlinal erosion cirques, Makhtesh Ramon, Ha-Makhtesh ha-Gadol, and Ha-Makhtesh ha-Katan, in the wadi-cuts at Ramallah and Wadi Māliḥ-Fari ʿ a, and in the uplifted fault blocks of Galilee, more than half of the exposed mountain formations of Israel belong to the marine Cenomanian-Turonian. Thus the prominent mountain bodies of the northern Negev, Judea-Samaria, Carmel, and Galilee are built of Cenomanian-Turonian rocks up to 2,500 ft. (800 m.) thick. The principal strata, hard limestone and dolomite, weather to a rough and rocky karstic landscape characteristic of Mediterranean calcareous terrains. Subdivided by very thin marly (e.g., Moẓa Marl) or by thicker flint-bearing chalk beds (e.g., the Carmel promontory of Haifa), these dolomites and limestones have become the main groundwater aquifer exploited during the last few decades in Israel.
In the central Transjordan section, in the Arabah-Dead Sea Rift Valley, and in the southernmost Negev (Timna), the Cenomanian limestone protrudes as a hard, vertical cliff overlying the rim of Nubian Sandstone escarpments. In southern Transjordan, the lower stage of the Cenomanian is still in the Nubian Sandstone facies. The main Cretaceous transgression starts there only with the Upper Cenomanian, or even, in places, with the Turonian. In northern Transjordan, however, in the upwarped region of the Jabbok-ʿAjlūn, the marine development of the Cenomanian is again complete, of considerable thickness and surface distribution. The landscape here is very reminiscent of the Judean-Samarian uplands. In the Carmel and Umm al-Faḥm mountains, submarine lavas and tuffs are interspersed in the Cenomanian-Turonian.
Senonian (Including Paleocene)
The Cenomanian upwarps and anticlines of the Israeli mountain bodies are everywhere framed on their flanks by narrow strips of Senonian, which continue in larger extension in the synclinal areas. Flint-bearing hogbacks and flat-irons are characteristic morphologic features of the asymmetrical slopes of the Negev and Judean anticlines. The greatest surface extension, however, is that of the synclinorial downwarps of the Judean Desert, the Desert of Zin, and the Paran (Jirāfi) and Ẓenifim deserts in the southern Negev. The dominating Senonian of these regions is also distinguished in the landscape by a white to light gray color and badland dissection of its principal rock type, the chalk. Where unexposed to the atmosphere, the Senonian chalk is usually bituminous. Intercalated flints and the now exploited phosphatic limestones are other representative rock-types of the Senonian. In the Negev section of Sinai and of Edom, opposite, the harder flints are the principal components of the pebble pavement of the large Ḥamada plains and plateaus.
The surface occurrence of the Eocene is similarly associated with the downwarped regions. The anticlinal ridges of the Cenomanian-Turonian, including their asymmetrical flanks, are practically devoid of Eocene. Eocene is of great extension west of the Ramon and Dimonah ranges in the structural depressions which start from the Avedat plateau down to Niẓẓanah, Revivim, and Beersheba. From Beersheba to the north it extends along the western foothills as far as Ḥuldah. Eocene is likewise extensively represented in the downwarped fold region of Paran and ʿ Aqof (ʿ Iqfi) in the southern Negev.
The folds of these synclinorial regions (and this applies also to those of the north) are usually smaller, shallower, more symmetric, and frequently of the brachy-anticline type. Undulations of this kind are developed in the uplifted high plateaus of Transjordan. In Samaria the exposed Eocene is distributed between Ebal-Gerizim and the Umm al-Faḥm range and in Ephraim proper between Umm al-Faḥm and Mount Carmel. A large area of Eocene is analogously situated (though disturbed by faults of the Kishon Valley) between Carmel and southwestern Galilee (Shepharam to Nazareth). In spite of the strong block-faulting which dissected the Galilee in the Pleistocene and the extensive basalt and Neogene cover, it is nevertheless possible to trace the Eocene on the southeastern flanks of the Galilean upwarp. On the western flank of this up-warp, parallel to the Senonian-Paleocene sedimentary girdle, Eocene appears in sporadic outcrops, intimating that its major portion lies hidden below the Coastal Plain and the sea. The Eocene in the foothill region of the Negev and Judea, western Galilee, and Ephraim consists primarily of chalk interspersed with flint and chalky marl. Lithologically it frequently resembles the Senonian and is accordingly marked by a common egg-shaped smooth hill-morphology. Harder limestones in the higher Negev (Avedat plateau) and in Sinai produce an esplanade landscape with enormous regional plateaus and cuestas. In the Lower Eocene table landscape of Edom-Moab, there is much interstratification of phosphatic limestone. Harder limestone and marble limestone of uppermost Lower to Middle Eocene age are widely distributed in central and eastern Galilee, evolving a pronounced karstic rough-hewn landscape which differs sharply from the smoother relief forms found in the foothill regions of Israel. There, rare occurrences of Upper Eocene are still developed in the chalky marly facies of the Middle to Lower Eocene foothills. Some of Galilee's largest springs derive from the Eocene karst, e.g., Gilboa, Migdal, Naḥal Ammud, Kinnerot (al-Ṭabigha), Kefar Giladi.
The Oligocene Tethys sea never reached far inland. The few limited outcrops in the foothills of Bet Guvrin, Ramleh, and Ephraim, as well as the drilling samples of the Coastal Plain, all point to shore deposits of chalky and detritic character. Marine Oligocene, therefore, plays no significant role in Israel's surface formations; continental Oligocene has not, so far, been discovered. Israel's emergence from the sea may have commenced in the Late Eocene from submarine ridges which already existed here and there in the Senonian; but the major elevation and hence the final anticlinal-synclinal fold pattern came about at the end of the Oligocene or earliest Miocene.
The beginning of the Neogene coincides with the most widespread rising of the region above the sea since the end of the Precambrian, i.e., since before the first appearance of the Paleozoic Tethys (Lipalian interval). Emergences had taken place before, such as at the end of the Triassic and Jurassic and the end of the Lower Cenomanian, but the whole of the country was not affected then, as shown by the results of recent deep borings in the Coastal Plain.
With the approach of the Miocene, the Tethys ceased to exist, its waters merging with and filling the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. At a later time, this region became connected with these two oceans only by means of small sea branches. Europe and Africa-Arabia were then united by isthmuses or divided by inland seas and the Mediterranean originated. In place of the widespread Mesozoic and Eocene transgressions of the Tethys, marine ingressions are henceforth limited to local embayments of the Mediterranean. These occurred primarily during the two Neogene stages, the Miocene Vindobonian and the Pliocene Astian-Plaisancian. Surface outcrops of the marine Neogene are very small in Israel and restricted to the foothill area or to the Beersheba and Kishon plains. Marine Neogene thus plays a very minor role in the morphology of the country.
The littoral Miocene is found today from Haifa Bay and the Ephraim Hills (Ein ha-Shofet) in the north to Beersheba and Dimonah in the Negev, up to a height of 1,600 ft. (500 m.) above sea level. In all the known exposures, it appears with sharp erosional unconformity on folded Eocene and Cretaceous rocks. The marine Miocene strata consist of lagoonal, sandy marls, beach sands, coarse-grained sands, and coral limestone. Both the facies and the fauna point to a connection with the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. After the retreat of the Miocene sea, due to uplift in the Pontian of some 700–1,000 ft. (200–300 m.), there followed a new subsidence, accompanied by the Pliocene ingression.
The Pliocene sea in the north again occupied the Kishon Valley, the Jezreel Valley, and eastern Galilee as far as Tiberias. In the south it reached Nevatim, east of Beersheba, and again washed the foothills bounding the present Coastal Plain. The character of the Pliocene (Astian) littoral sediments is similar to the Miocene, except for the absence of coral reef limestone, indicating disconnection from the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Uplift movements at the end of the Pliocene and during the Pleistocene brought the Pliocene littoral beds to their present height of 700–1,000 ft. (200–300 m.) and the Miocene to 1,600 ft. (500 m.). Where subaerial erosion has removed the Neogene sediments, the ancient abrasion planes often appear as tilted "peneplains."
The marine Miocene-Pliocene lying below the Quaternary of the Coastal Plain has been studied in hundreds of water wells and in many petroleum-exploration drillings. As so-called Sāqiyya beds, it consists of several hundred meters of plastic clays, silty marls, and marly sands; there are some local lumachelle layers and even basalt flows. In the deeper horizons it becomes markedly lagoonal, with several gypsum horizons, but this part of the section may be assigned to the Miocene-Oligocene.
The varying relief of Israel and neighboring Levant countries demonstrated by the Neogene irregular gulf and headland coastal configuration is also expressed by the development of large intermontane depressions, with their fill of predominantly continental deposits. Limnic freshwater and brackish sediments, evaporites (Menaḥemiyyah gypsum, Sodom salt), fluviatile gravel, red beds, and desert sands attaining hundreds of meters of thickness have been described under various formation names: Herod, Sodom, Ḥaẓevah (Ḥoṣeb), etc. They occur in the Jezreel Valley, the Jordan Valley, the Negev, and near the Dead Sea. Although of lesser thickness and geographical extension, these inland sediments may be compared in facies and age with the Bakhtiyārī and Fars series of Iran, Iraq, and Syria.
The continental Neogene, like its contemporaneous marine Mio-Pliocene, rests discordantly upon all pre-Miocene formations, frequently starting with a basal conglomerate, e.g., Kefar Giladi, Har Hordos, al-Dhrā ʿ, Dimonah, etc. In the folded mountains of the Negev it is associated with synclinal basins (as in the Palmyra chains of Syria), e.g., Naḥal Malḥata (Wadi Milḥ) east of Beersheba, synclinal valleys between Yeroḥam and the Ha-Makhtesh ha-Gadol (Ḥatirah) anticlines, the Ḥaẓevah-Sodom-al-Dhrā ʿ basin, and the Upper Paran downwarp. In the Jezreel Valley and eastern Galilee the continental Neogene occurs as filling masses within the huge fault depressions that extend from the Kishon to the Tiberias area. This is the same region of tectonic tension in which Upper Miocene and, more visibly, Upper Pliocene continental basalt eruptions took place and even continued during the Pleistocene. Pleistocene and Pliocene sheet lavas have built up the extensive volcanic plateaus of Hauran and eastern Galilee. They cover Neogene and pre-Neogene sediments, which, due to Pleistocene block and rift faulting, are exposed along the slopes of the Jordan graben and in the transversal fault valleys of Naḥal Tabor (Wadi Bīra), Harod, and eastern Dayshūn.
Uplift and desiccation of the inland lakes not only brought the marine and continental Pliocene into a higher topographic position, but was also accompanied by the complete retreat of the sea far to the west of the present Levant shores. Contemporary with this uplift, fault-dissection on a regional scale produced the graben-trough of Eilat-Arabah, the Dead Sea, and the Jordan Valley and accompanying step-fault blocks. The branching off of diagonal faults both in Cisand Transjordan gave origin to transversal fault valleys and fault-block mountains, which are especially well developed in Samaria and the Galilee. The Negev, south Judea, Shephelah, and Sharon were far less affected by fault tectonics, and thus the mid-Tertiary fold pattern of anticlinal ridges and synclinal valleys, upwarps and downwarps, remained well preserved. In the synclinal valleys and on the ḥamada-plateaus of the Paran hinterland, continental deposition may have continued from Upper Tertiary to Recent.
Along the western border of the Judean Mountains, gravel fans and terraces plunge below the Coastal Plain (as far west as the Mediterranean) and are found in groundwater exploration wells at depths of 330 ft. (100 m.) overlying the Neogene strata. These clastics are assigned to the Lower Pleistocene or Villafranchian, indicating the extremely high precipitation of this Pluvial stage, synchronized with the Guenz-Mindel glacial time of Europe. Younger gravels of Mid-Upper Pleistocene age interfinger the fossil indurated dunes of the Coastal Plain, known as kurkar sandstone. The kurkar, which constitutes another important aquifer, is frequently subdivided by a terra-rossa-like, sandy, loamy soil, the ḥamra (Ar. ḥamrā ʾ) or "red sands" of our citrus belt. The unconsolidated dunes are of Recent age. They run along the Coastal Plain and extend into the northern Negev, as far inland as the neighborhood of Beersheba. The undifferentiated Quaternary signifies the loamy, loess, and swampy soils, as well as recent gravels and silts blanketing the coastal and interior alluvial plains. Pleistocene marine sediments are found as foraminiferal limestone in the Haifa-Acre plain (e.g., Kurdaneh) and as marine kurkar around the western Carmel border. The water boreholes in the Coastal Plain encountered marine Pleistocene only as far inland as Rishon le-Zion, but this is missing in the Jezreel Valley and the Shephelah foothills. The lower Pleistocene is thus the most insignificant of the ingressions of the Cenozoic Mediterranean Sea. During the Upper Pleistocene, Mousterian man already lived near the present shores.
In the newly formed Quaternary Dead Sea-Jordan graben, the Lower to Middle Pleistocene is distinguished by gravel and freshwater lake and swamp deposits. At the southern end of Lake Tiberias (ʿ Ubaydiyya), many extinct mammals, skeleton remains of primitive man, and implements both of pebble culture and of Abbevillian were discovered. Slightly younger, but not older than Middle Pleistocene, were the proto-Acheulean tools and extinct fauna found at the Jordan, south of Lake Ḥuleh. During this period volcanic activity was renewed and many basalt layers accumulated, derived in part from the Hauran district. They were partly responsible for separating the Ḥuleh graben section from the Tiberias and southern Jordan graben and for the accumulation of thick peat deposits in the Ḥuleh Valley. The Tiberias region, the middle and southern Jordan valley, the Dead Sea, and the northernmost Arabah valley were occupied during the Upper Pleistocene (some 60,000 years ago) by a large brackish inland lake in which were deposited fine-bedded clays, gypsum, and chalk, called the Lashon (lisān) formation. This formation is interfingered with large fluviatile deposits of gravel and silt. At the end of the Pleistocene (some 20,000 to 15,000 years ago), the ancient Lisān lake receded from its highest stand at the -720 ft. (-220 m.) level to about -1,300 ft. (-400 m.), the present level of the Dead Sea. Young rivers spread their gravels upon the dried-up Lisān lake and cut out the present floodplain of the Jordan River. The raising of the Sodom salt mountain also started in the Lower Pleistocene.
The tectonic structures formed by the folding movements that modeled their final features during the Mid-Tertiary are best preserved in the dry climate of the Negev. However, south of the Yotvatah area, the influence of the Plio-Pleistocene graben faulting with its step faults, parallel and transversal to the Arabah graben depression, markedly disturbs the fold pattern that is still well observable at Ẓenifim. From Naḥal Paran as far as Makhtesh Ramon the direction of the folds is close to east-west and this trend persists into Sinai. The folds then turn in a northeast-southwest direction and dominate the central and northern Negev. Their anticlines are mostly asymmetrical on the eastern flanks and frequently limited by reverse strike-faults. These folds are grouped into one unit forming the main anticlinorial uplift, with culminations in the Makhtesh Ramon and Ha-Makhtesh ha-Gadol. In the structurally low areas, such as the central Arabah Valley and the synclinorium of Ḥaluẓah, the folds are smaller and more symmetrical, representing small domes and brachy-anticlines.
The mountainous region of Judea and Samaria is a broad arch, rising to a considerable height, that is subdivided into folds by the anticlines of Maon, Yatta, Ẓāhiriyya, Modi'im, etc. and the synclines of Netiv ha-Lamed-He and Ẓorah. The arch and its folds, again with a northeast–southwest trend, are distinctly asymmetrical, descending unequally to the Coastal Plain in the west and to the Jordan-Dead Sea graben in the east. Thus the pronounced northwest asymmetry observed on the western slopes of the Judean arch contrasts with the southeast asymmetry of the dominant folds of the Judean Desert and the northern Negev. These asymmetrical anticlinal folds are difficult to relate to pressure exerted by the Arabo-Nubian massif, but are apparently connected with the mechanism of epeirogenic and taphrogenic uplifts.
As in most rift valleys of regional extent, it is not always possible to define the exact location of the main border faults. In the case of the Pleistocene Jordan–Dead Sea graben, a throw of a thousand meters or more has been determined at a number of places. The western cliffs of the Dead Sea graben and the graben slopes between Beth-Shean and Lake Kinneret are, moreover, divided by numerous step faults that run parallel to the main border fault. They are also hidden to some extent by en échelon faults that have their origin in the main graben. A number of transversal faults, such as those between Wadi Fāri ʿ a and Jericho, as well as in the foothill region near Tulkarm, cut the anticlinorium of the Judean Mountains.
On the Coastal Plain, just as in the northern Negev and the southern part of the Judean Mountains, the structural lines are directed northeast-southwest. It is not yet clear whether this direction applies only to the folds or, as in the Ḥeleẓ area, to deep-seated faults as well. Petroleum wells of the Ḥeleẓ-Beror Ḥayil ridge indicate the presence of a wide and deep depression filled with Tertiary sediments, constituting the regional (Ashkelon) fault-conditioned trough.
In the Sharon a number of small transversal faults have been observed. It is possible that these constitute the continuation of faults exposed in the foothill area. There are no surface indications of a main, larger border fault, as found along the Jordan graben. Nevertheless one may assume that the great thickness of Tertiary sediments in the Sharon Plain is the outcome of a downfaulted coastal depression that began during or at the end of the Mid-Tertiary, as presumed also for the Ashkelon trough. If the existence of main faults below the young fill on the Coastal Plain and the continental slope area of the Mediterranean should be proved, then a general tectonic picture would evolve presenting Judea as a major horst limited on both sides by major grabens or by downfaulted depressions.
Mount Carmel forms a structural unit by itself. It is an extensive faulted uplift. The direction of some of the smaller anticlines (ʿ Usifiyyā, Oren) is northwest-southeast. That is to say, they are not in harmony with the strike of other fold structures in the country. The view has been expressed that the major faults that limit Mount Carmel to the north have been responsible for producing the small anticlinal bends of this exceptional direction. Although the folds in Upper Galilee are more or less obliterated by the predominance of faulting, a certain east-southeast asymmetry of the rudimentary folds, and especially of the central upwarp, is still noticeable. Whereas in eastern Galilee faults are primarily directed northwest-southeast and their fault escarpments face north, in western Galilee, i.e., west of the main watershed, the faults run principally east-west, and their tilted block escarpments usually face south. The region of the watershed thus serves as a structural backbone where both the western and eastern fault systems meet. It is here, at Mount Tabor, Ḥazon, Ha-Ari, Meron, and Addir, that the faults frame the horst blocks on all sides.
In geological maps of Transjordan, many faults are indicated. Among the principal ones, there is the northeast-southwest Wadi Shu'eib fault, which turns into a north-south fault in the Dead Sea, thus becoming the eastern boundary fault of the graben. Between Wadi Ḥasa ʾ and Petra, sets of faults in various directions build an extensive series of blocks in which the influence of the graben tectonics is heavily felt. The most outstanding of these faults extend southward from Petra, forming the eastern boundary fault of the southern Arabah graben and the western boundary of the Midian horst.
M.A. Avnimelech (comp.), Bibliography of Levant Geology, 2 vols. (1965–9); idem, Etudes géologiques dans la région de la Shephélah (1936), includes illustrations; L. Lartet, Essai sur la géologie de la Palestine (1869); M. Blanckenhorn, in: Handbuch der regionalen Geologie, 5 no. 4 (1914), 1–159, includes illustrations; G.S. Blake, The Stratigraphy of Palestine and its Building Stones (1936); L. Picard, in: Bulletin of the Geological Department, Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 4 no. 2–4 (1943), 1–134; idem, in: Israel Economic Forum, 6 no. 3 (1954), 8–38, 146–50: idem, in: brci, 8g (1959), 1–30: idem, in: American Geological Society, Special Paper, no. 84 (1965), 337–66, includes illustrations; Y. Bentor, in: brci, 10g (1961), 17–64; S.H. Shaw, Southern Palestine Geological Map (1947), with explanatory notes; M.W. and D. Ball, in: American Association of Petroleum Geology, 37 no. 1 (1953), 1–113. See also Geological Survey of Israel Reports.
Flora and Fauna
The flora of Ereẓ Israel is among the richest and most varied of any country in the world. On both sides of the Jordan River there are close to 2,300 species belonging to about 700 genera, which in turn belong to 115 families of flora. To these should be added scores of species found in Golan. No other place in the world has such floral wealth concentrated within such a comparatively small area. This density of species is due to several factors. Among them are the varied history of the region's landscape, the diversity of its topography and climate, the lengthy period of its agriculture, and especially the fact that it is the meeting place of three phytogeographic areas: the Mediterranean, the Irano-Turanic, and the Saharo-Sindic, with enclaves here and there of the Sudano-Deccanic.
The Flora of the Mediterranean Area
Of the three phytogeographic areas, the most important is the Mediterranean, which includes agricultural land in the mountains and valleys. In it the amount of water precipitation varies from 14–40 in. (350–1,000 mm.). This precipitation, the result of winter rains (with a small additional amount of melted snow from the high mountains), makes the nonirrigated cultivation of plantations and of winter and summer crops possible. The area is subdivided into mountain and coastal subareas.
The Mountain Subarea
This was once agriculturally the most developed area (having since been superseded in importance by farming lands in the valleys and the Coastal Plain). The intensive agricultural cultivation of mountain lands has curtailed or prevented the development of forests in this, their natural habitat, so that only remnants of forests and groves are left. In this subarea several types of forests are to be found containing the common *oak, the Palestine *terebinth, the mastic terebinth, the *carob, the arbutus, and the rhamnus, as well as many shrubs and wild grasses. The *Aleppopine (Pinus halepensis), thought to be native to the country, is mainly a newcomer, brought by human activities in the last 500 years. Most of the woods in Israel consist of the group of the common oak (Quercus calliprinos), and the Palestine terebinth (Pistacia palaestina), which can reach a considerable height but are usually shrubby as a result of having been cut or gnawed by sheep and particularly goats. This bush grows extensively on mountains of an altitude between 1,000–4,000 ft. (300–1,200 m.) above sea level. There is also the gall oak (Quercus infectoria (boissieri)), a deciduous tree with a tall trunk, alongside which grows the hawthorn (Crataegus azarolus). Under favorable humid conditions there also grow in this subarea the sweet *bay (Laurus nobilis) and the Judas tree (Cercis siliquastrum), which in spring adorns the mountains with its lilac flowers. On the western ridges of the Carmel and Western Galilee and on the western slopes of the Judean mountains, there is maquis, where grow the group of the carob (ceratonia siliqua) and the mastic terebinth (Pistacia tentiscus), along with many species of shrubs, climbers, annuals, and perennials. A third genus of oak – the Tabor oak (Quercus ithaburensis) – predominates on the western ranges of the Lower Galilean mountains, accompanied by the *storax tree (Styrax officinalis). In the northern Ḥuleh Valley it grows alongside the Atlantic terebinth (Pistacia atlantica). These two species of trees are the largest in Israel, some in the neighborhood of Dan having trunks 20 ft. (6 m.) in circumference and reaching a height of c. 65 ft. (20 m.).
All these are types of forest trees
Another genus of Mediterranean plant comprises flora groups called garrigue, which in Israel consist predominantly of shrubs and dwarf shrubs no taller than a man. The characteristic plants of the garrigue are the calycotome thorn bush (Calycotome villosa), the rock rose (Cistus villosus), and the salvia (Salvia tribola). At times the garrigue flora groups are the developing stage of a forest, at others an indication of the former presence there of a forest since destroyed. Characteristic of the unforested Mediterranean landscape are dwarf shrubs, of which the most widespread is the poterium thorn (Poterium spinosum). Reaching a height of less than half a meter, it grows densely and is one of the principal factors in preventing the erosion of mountain soil. Where being used either for firewood or for burning lime has destroyed these plants, the eroding effects of wind and rain have denuded the ground.
The Coastal Subarea
The soil here is sandy or a mixture of sandy chalk and sandy clay, which, being poor in organic substances and in its capacity to retain rainwater, is unsuitable for the growth of plants (unless irrigated). In this subarea grows flora that strikes deep roots, and desert and Aravah plants that can exist on small amounts of water, as well as annuals which sprout and ripen during the rainy winter months. Here can be found flora of Israel's three phytogeographic areas, as well as that of the Sudanoz-Deccanic, such as the *sycamore (Ficus sycomorus) and the wild *jujube (Zizyphus spina-Christi). Sand flora is in constant danger of being covered by moving sands and of having the sand under its roots blown away by the wind. Yet many sand plants are able to survive under such conditions, either by striking deep roots or by developing new shoots above the branches covered by sand. Near the sea, where the winds carry sea spray onto the flora, plants grow which are insensitive to sea water, such as the Russian thistle (Salsola kali) and species of fig marigold (Mesembryanthemum). Most of the sandy-clay soil is planted with citrus groves. The flora group of the love grass (Eragrostis bipinnata) and of the thistle (Centaurea procurrens) grow extensively here, as do the group of the cistus and of the calycotome on the brittle sandy-chalk hills in the Coastal Plain area, and the group of the carob and of the mastic in the hard sandy-chalk soil.
The Flora of the Irano-Turanic Area
This is concentrated in the loess or arid soil of the northern Negev and the Judean Desert. Here the climate is dry, with a rainfall varying from 8–14 in. (200–300 mm.), these being the limits for nonirrigated plants which thrive in rainy years (cf. Gen. 26:12). In this area there are almost no forests, but only sparse trees, such as the plant association of the Atlantic terebinth and the lotus jujube (Zizyphus lotus). Characteristic of the slopes bordering on the Jordan and Beth-Shean Valleys is the Retama duriaei association. Here the most important plant association is of a species of *wormwood (Artemisia herba-alba) which grows extensively in the Negev and in the Judean Desert.
The Flora of the Saharo-Sindic Area
This area, which extends over most of Israel but has the poorest flora, includes the southern Negev and the Aravah. Its rainfall, which is limited to a shorter period in winter, does not exceed c. 8 in. (200 mm.) and is usually much less, and there are even parts which in some years are almost completely rainless. The soil here is infertile and includes hammada, desert, gravel, and rocks. Trees grow only in wadi fissures. There are saline tracts bare of all flora, which is in any event very sparse here. The most typical plant in the hammada is the small shrub Zygophyllum dumosum, which is capable of surviving in areas with a rainfall of less than 2 in. (50 mm.). Since desert plants have to contend with a severe shortage of water, only those with special properties are able to survive here. Most of them spring up and flower quickly after a shower of rain; some of them, only a few weeks after germinating, scatter their seeds, which are capable of preserving their power of germination for many years. Other species here are bulbous plants that hibernate in dry periods. Generally, desert flora has long roots so as to utilize the sparse amount of water over a wide area, and hence the infrequency of these plants. Many species of desert flora have a great ability to absorb groundwater; one species, the Reaumaria palaestina, developing an osmotic capacity of more than 200 atmospheres. Other desert plants shed their leaves in a dry season, thereby curtailing the area of evaporation. Still other species are succulents, which are equipped with cells that in the rainy season store water for the dry period.
In sandy desert regions the flora is usually more abundant, the predominant species here being the haloxylon and the broom (Retama roetam). In the Aravah and in the lower Jordan Valley, where there is widespread salinity, saline flora, including species of atriplex and salicornia, grows densely.
In desert regions near sources of water there are oases, where tropical Sudano-Deccanic flora grows, the characteristic plants here being species of acacia, wild jujube, etc. These also grow in wadi fissures in desert regions. In places where the ground becomes sodden from winter floods, crops can be grown and plantations established.
Hydrophylic flora grows near expanses of water in all the areas of Israel. Large numbers of the poplar (Populus euphratica), as well as species of the *willow (Salix) and of the *tamarisk (Tamarix), grow on river banks, as do the *plane (Platanus orientalis) and the Syrian ash (Fraxinus syriaca) on the banks of streams in the north. Alongside these trees there usually grows the *oleander (Nerium oleander), together with numerous species of annuals and perennials. The reed and the cattail are found near almost every expanse of water. The papyrus once flourished extensively in the Ḥuleh swamps, but since they were drained it grows in extremely limited areas. Due to the draining of swamps in Israel and the piping of river water, hydrophytic flora has progressively decreased. On the other hand, some species of riparian plants flourish near fishponds, the area of which has greatly increased.
Ereẓ Israel has a long and varied history of *agriculture. In addition to the older plants cultivated in the country for centuries, many have been introduced from various parts of the world, especially from Australia (mainly many species of the eucalyptus and the acacia) and from America, among these being numerous ornamental plants. Together with these plants, their companion wild grasses have also come into Israel and have flourished alongside the older wild grasses, in particular the prickly species which are a characteristic feature of Israel's landscape, especially in the burning hot days of summer.
The history of the fauna of Ereẓ Israel is a long one, going back to the earliest geological periods. Of these the Pleistocene epoch was the most dynamic and decisive in this respect by reason of the considerable changes which took place in its zoological character, mainly as a result of the influx of animals from various regions. In this period, fauna at present characteristic of East African savannas predominated in the country. To this period belong the bones, uncovered in the country, of animals no longer extant in Israel, such as warthog, hippopotamus, rhinoceros, and striped hyena, as well as various species of gazelle. The bones of elephants and of mastodons, brought to light in the Jordan Valley, belong to the Lower Pleistocene Age. In later periods animals penetrated to the country from Western and Central Asia, among them the wild horse, the wild ass, gazelles, wolves, and badgers. From the north there was a limited influx of animals as a result of the Ice Age in Europe.
During the Upper Pleistocene Age a tropical climate, warm and humid, predominated in Ereẓ Israel. This was followed by a dry period, which led to the destruction of the tropical fauna. And indeed an examination of the bones of animals found in the caves of prehistoric man in the Carmel shows that the principal game hunted by him consisted of mammals still extant in Israel. This is true also of the bones of birds brought to light in Early Stone Age caves, although several mammals and birds are of species extinct in the country in historical times. As early as the end of the Stone Age (4,000 b.c.e.) there was to be found in the country the fauna characteristic of it since biblical days.
With the enlargement of the settled area in the biblical and later in the Byzantine period, changes took place in the distribution of animals, now forced into the uninhabited areas (see *Animals of the Bible). The invention of rifles led to the extinction of the large carnivores as well as of the large ruminant game.
The present-day Jewish agricultural settlements have altered the distribution of the various animals. Some of them have disappeared, while others, finding favorable conditions in developed farming areas, have begun to multiply. Thus the increase in waterfowl is due directly to the increase of fishponds, in which aquatic mammals (such as the marsh lynx) have also begun to establish themselves. New species of birds have started to nest in plantations and citrus groves. The State of Israel's fauna preservation laws have saved several mammals from threatened extinction and some have begun to multiply greatly, such as the *gazelle, at present to be found in various parts of the country. The *ibex, too, has increased in number and herds of it may be seen in the mountains of En-Gedi and Eilat. On the other hand, toxic substances used to exterminate agricultural pests and jackals have led to the extinction of birds, particularly carrion-feeding ones. In this way the griffon *vultures, found in large numbers in the country up to the 1930s, have become almost extinct, only a few surviving at present.
The Zoogeography of Ereẓ Israel
The fauna in the country is extremely varied, the reason for this being, as in the case of the flora, that Israel is the meeting place of three climatic and floral regions. The regional distribution of the fauna corresponds almost exactly to that of the flora. To the Mediterranean fauna belong the *hare, chukar *partridge, swallow, agama, and others; to the Saharo-Sindic, the desert mouse, desert lark, sandgrouse, *gecko, cobra, and many other species; to the Irano-Turanic, animals that inhabit the northern Negev and the Judean Desert, such as the tiger weasel (Vormela), bustard, isolepis, and agama.
The Sudano-Deccanic animals inhabit the Jordan Valley as far as the Aravah. Here are to be found representatives also of tropical fauna, such as the cheetah, honey badger, tropical cuckoo, and carpet viper. In contrast to these animals that love the warmth, there are also representatives of the Holarctic fauna, such as the shrew and meadow pipit.
The catalogue of the names of animals thus far studied testifies to a wealth of fauna. At present approximately 100 species of mammals are known, nearly 400 of birds, more than 70 of reptiles, more then 400 of sweet and salt water fish, and seven of Amphibia. Much larger is the number of invertebrates. These are extensively represented among the insects, of which some 8,000 species are known in the country, their aggregate number being 22,000 according to Bodenheimer, who maintains that there are about 900 species of other Arthropoda. Of the invertebrates, other than the Arthropoda, some 300 species are known, their total number being estimated at about 2,750.
flora. A. Eig, et al., Magdir le-Ẓimḥei Ereẓ Yisrael (1948); M. Zohari, Olam ha-Ẓemaḥim (1954); idem, Geobotanikah (1955); idem, Plant Life of Palestine (1962); J. Feliks, Olam ha-Ẓome'aḥ ha-Mikra'i (1957); N. Feinbrun-Dothan, Wild Plants in the Land of Israel (1960). fauna. Lewysohn, Zool; F.S. Bodenheimer, Animal and Man in Bible Lands (1960); J. Feliks, The Animal World of the Bible (1962). add. bibliography: J. Feliks, Ḥai ve-Ẓomaḥ ba-Torah (1984).
"Land of Israel: Geographical Survey." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/land-israel-geographical-survey
"Land of Israel: Geographical Survey." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved October 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/land-israel-geographical-survey