Despite its small size, about 290 miles (470 km) north-to-south and 85 miles (135 km) east-to-west at its widest point, Israel is divided into four physiographic (geographic) regions: the Mediterranean coastal plain, the Central Hills, the Great Rift Valley and the Negev Desert – and a wide range of unique physical features and microclimates. The four main geographical regions of the Land of the Bible have a great regional variation for the small land of Israel.
The Coastal Plain
The coastal plain is a narrow strip about 115 miles (185 km) long that widens to about 25 miles (40 km) in the south. A sandy shoreline on the Mediterranean, to the east, fertile farmlands and the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa.
In the north the mountains of Galilee constitute the highest part of Israel, reaching an elevation of 3,963 feet (1,208 metres) at Mount Meron (Arabic: Jebel Jarmaq). The Mount Carmel range, which culminates in a peak 1,791 feet (546 metres) high, forms a spur reaching northwest from the highlands of the Shomron (West Bank), cutting almost to the coast of Haifa. The Central Hills lie to the east of the Coastal Plain, stretching from the northern border to the far south and the city of Eilat. The hills encompass the Galilee, the Carmel, the Negev highlands, as well as the hills around Jerusalem, and offer staggering scenery, desert in the south, and in the north.
Great Rift Valley
The Great Rift Valley (Dead Sea Rift) forms a series of valleys running south, the length of the country, to the Gulf of Eilat. The Jordan River marks the frontier between Israel and Jordan, flows southward through the rift from Dan on Israel’s northern frontier, 500 feet (152 metres) above sea level, first into the Ḥula Valley, then into the freshwater Lake Tiberias 686 feet (209 metres) below sea level. The Jordan continues south through the Jordan Valley and finally into the highly saline Dead Sea, which, at 1,312 feet (400 metres) below sea level, is the lowest point of a natural landscape feature on the Earth’s surface. South of the Dead Sea, the rift forms the ʿArava Valley , an arid plain that extends to the Gulf of Eilat.
The Negev comprises the southern half of Israel. Arrow-shaped, this flat, sandy desert region narrows toward the south, where it becomes increasingly arid and breaks into sandstone hills cut by wadis, canyons, and cliffs before finally coming to a point where the ʿArava reaches Eilat.
Israel’s climate ranges from temperate to tropical, with plenty of sunshine. Two distinct seasons predominate: a rainy winter period from November to May; and a dry summer season which extends through the next six months. Rainfall is relatively heavy in the North and center of the country, with much less in the northern Negev and almost negligible amounts in the southern areas.
Regional conditions vary considerably, with humid summers and mild winters on the coast; dry summers and moderately cold winters in the hill regions (including Jerusalem), hot dry summers and pleasant winters in the Jordan Valley; and year-round semidesert conditions in the Negev. Weather extremes range from occasional winter snowfall at higher elevations to periodic oppressively hot dry winds, which send temperatures soaring, particularly in spring and autumn.