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In the Holy Land the physical is an embodiment of the spiritual.  When the Land was promised to Abraham and his descendants the Almighty designated a microcosm of the entire world as his Promise to the Jewish People in this small strip of earth some 10,000 square miles in size.  Furthermore He laid down the challenge of a Land that should it be neglected all would very quickly turn to ruin, but if cultivated with loving care, it would bear its best fruits. 


The geography of the Holy Land varies tremendously.  In the north we begin with the winter snows of Mt. Hermon whose highest peak rises to 2224 meters  (6895 feet) above sea level.  Stretching south of the Hermon is the Golan Heights, a volcanic plateau towering over the Hula Valley and Sea of Galilee just to its west.  The central Golan is cut by streams running from east to west joining the Jordan River and Sea of Galilee.  The Hula, the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee (209 meters or 648 feet below sea level) are all part of the great Syrian-African rift running from eastern Turkey in the north to Lake Victoria in Africa to the south. 


The Galilee, bordering Lebanon in the north, rests between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.  Split into two, the northern or Upper Galilee is fairly mountainous with its highest peak, Mt. Meron, just west of Tzfat, cresting at 1208 meters (3745 feet) while the Lower Galilee to the south has low rolling hills reaching a height of no more than some 600 meters (1860 feet) while interspersed with numerous valleys, most notably those of Bet Hakerem, Sakhnin, Bet Netofa, Turan and Zevulun.  Running east-west, the ridges of the central Lower Galilee are well known from the Talmudic period in Judaism and the genesis of Christianity.  Jesus and his disciples as well as the rabbis of yesteryear walked these hills. 


The Lower Galilee is enjoined to the south by the expansive Jezreel Valley,  the most fertile lands in modern day Israel.  As the Jezreel continues eastwards it connects into the Ein Harod and then Bet Shean Valley, the latter touching the Jordan River and forming the border with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  Here the geography changes direction, no longer do mountain ridges run east-west in quick succession with valleys trapped between them. 


The landscape is now dominated by the central mountain spine beginning south of the Jezreel Valley running from Jenin, in the north to the Hebron hills in the south, and most of this region is situated in what is widely considered modern day Palestine or the Palestinian Territories.  In the Hebron region elevations reach 1000 meters (3100 feet) and then drop substantially as the terrain flattens out into the adjacent northern Negev highlands.  This region splits into two, the north known as the Samarian hills and the south, the Judean hills containing Jerusalem, the heartland of Christianity and Judaism, and Bethlehem the birthplace of Jesus.  On the western side the central mountain ridge tapers off into the coastal plain ending on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, home to Tel Aviv, modern Israel's commercial and financial center and Caesarea, the ancient port and capital of Judea during the reign of King Herod.  On the eastern side the central ridge slopes down into the Jordan Rift Valley on the northern end and the Judean Desert in the south.  Jericho sits between the two, just north of the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea (425 meters or 1318 feet below sea level) abutting the eastern side of the Judean Desert. 


The Negev Desert forms the Holy Land's southern expanses in a triangular fashion.  In the northwest is the large fertile region flattening out towards the Mediterranean Sea.  On the east is the border with Jordan running from the Dead Sea through the Arava Valley and ending at the southern port of Eilat on the Red Sea while on the west is the border with Egypt, not always so easy to discern by topography.  The Arava is a low lying valley, extremely hot in the summer but with good farmland once water is provided.  The south - central Negev includes the Wilderness of Zin and Paran but is dominated by plateaus in the north and central sectors while changing form with high jagged mountain ridges near Eilat.  In the northeastern and central regions we meet the spectacular "makhteshim" or craters, not formed by meteor impact but rather through water and wind erosion.  The Negev is paradise for geologists and hikers as the starkness of limestone, granite and multicolored sandstone formations leave one with ingrained memories of its stark beauty. 


The Land presents itself not only as a "Promise" but as a challenge.  Water and swamps were located in the north but the majority of good farmland lay much further away in the arid south.  In essence God gave all the natural resources but none of the development, that being the function of the People of Israel.  Hence in the 1960s the National Water Carrier was completed piping water from the Sea of Galilee to the Negev to make the desert bloom.  As of late, desalination plants were established on the coast and others are being planned to add another 500 million cubic meters of water to the system.  In the north fields exist where swamps once dominated. 


The Heavens provided the geography and through their actions the People brought about the realization of the Promise.  Devoid of oil or precious minerals Israel used what natural resources were available to realize the development of the homeland of Israel, part of the Holy Land, once again, now in modern times. 




Author: Yisrael Ne'eman,

Licensed Tour Guide, Livnot Educational Institute

Reprinted with permission




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