Israel Fast Facts
Israel is located in the Middle East, along the eastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Lebanon, Syria,
Jordan and Egypt. It lies at the junction of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa.
Long and narrow in shape, the country is about 290 miles (470 km.) in length and 85 miles (135 km.) in width at its
widest point. It covers an area of about 21,596 sq km (about 8338 sq mi).
Although small in size, Israel encompasses the varied topographical features of an entire continent, ranging from
forested highlands and fertile green valleys to mountainous deserts and from the coastal plain to the semitropical Jordan
Valley and the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. Approximately half of the country's land area is semi-arid.
Israel's climate is characterized by much sunshine, with a rainy season from November to April. Total annual precipitation
ranges from 20-50 inches (50-125 cm.) in the north to less than an inch (2.5 cm.) in the far south. Regional climatic conditions
vary considerably: hot, humid summers and mild, wet winters on the coastal plain; dry, warm summers and moderately cold winters,
with rain and occasional light snow, in the hill regions; hot, dry summers and pleasant winters in the Jordan Valley; and
semi-arid conditions, with warm to hot days and cool nights, in the south.
Flora and Fauna
The rich variety of Israel's plant and animal life reflects its geographical location as well as its varied topography
and climate. Over 380 kinds of birds, some 150 mammal and reptile species, and nearly 3,000 plant types (150 of which are
native to Israel) are found within its borders. About 150 nature reserves, encompassing nearly 400 square miles (almost 1,000
sq. km.) have been established throughout the country.
The scarcity of water in the region has generated intense efforts to maximize use of the available supply and to seek
new resources. In the 1960s, Israel's freshwater sources were joined in an integrated grid whose main artery, the National
Water Carrier, brings water from the north and center to the semi-arid south. Ongoing projects for utilizing new sources include
cloud seeding, recycling of sewage water and the desalination of seawater.
Israel is a country of immigrants. Since its inception in 1948, Israel's population has grown seven-fold. Its over
six million inhabitants comprise a mosaic of people with varied ethnic backgrounds, lifestyles, religions, cultures and traditions.
The population of Israel is about 5.8 million. The population can be divided by religion into a Jewish majority (82%) and
a non-Jewish minority (18%).
About 90% of Israel's inhabitants live in some 200 urban centers, some of which are located on ancient historical
sites. About 5% are members of unique rural cooperative settlements - the kibbutz and the moshav.
System of Government
Israel is a parliamentary democracy with legislative, executive and judicial branches. The head of the state is the
president, whose duties are mostly ceremonial and formal; the office symbolizes the unity and sovereignty of the state. The
Knesset, Israel's legislative authority, is a 120-member unicameral parliament which operates in plenary session and through
14 standing committees. Its members are elected every four years in universal nationwide elections. The Government (cabinet
of ministers) is charged with administering internal and foreign affairs. It is headed by a prime minister and is collectively
responsible to the Knesset.
The Olive Branches
The prophet Zechariah, who lived in the sixth century had a vision. He saw a golden seven branched menorah flanked
by two olive trees. Our Rabbis interpreted this vision to mean that the Temple and the State of Israel would someday be restored
to their former glory. Also, olive branches are symbols of peace.
HaTikva means "the hope". It is the national anthem of Israel and expresses the hope of Jews everywhere that we can
be free to worship in our own land and its capital Jerusalem.
The Land of Israel
"A land flowing with milk and honey..."
Shemot (Exodus) 3:8
Eretz Israel (Land of Israel) is a small, narrow, semi-arid
piece of land on the southeastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. It entered history
some 35 centuries ago when the Jewish people forsook their nomadic way of life, settled in the Land and became a nation. Over
the years, the Land was known by many names - Eretz Israel; Zion, one of Jerusalem's hills which came to signify both the
city and the Land of Israel as a whole; Palestine, derived from Philistia, and first used by the Romans; the Promised Land;
and the Holy Land, to mention but a few. Mountains and plains, fertile fields and deserts are often minutes apart.
The coastal plain runs parallel to the Mediterranean Sea and is composed of a sandy
shoreline, bordered by stretches of fertile farmland extending up to 25 miles (40 km.) inland. In the north, expanses of sandy
beach are occasionally punctuated by jagged chalk and sandstone cliffs which drop sheerly to the sea.
Several mountain ranges run the length of the country. In the northeast, the basalt landscapes of the Golan
Heights, formed by volcanic eruptions in the distant past, rise as steep cliffs overlooking the Hula Valley.
The hills of Galilee, largely composed of soft limestone and dolomite, ascend to heights
ranging from 1,600 to 4,000 feet (500 to 1,200 m.) above sea level. Small perennial streams and relatively ample rainfall
keep the area green all year round. The Jezreel Valley, separating the hills of Galilee from those
of Samaria, is the land's richest agricultural area. The rolling
hills of Samaria and Judea
present a mosaic of rocky hilltops and fertile valleys, dotted with age-old silver-green olive groves. The terraced hillsides,
first developed by farmers in ancient times, blend into the natural landscape.
Further south, the Negev becomes an arid zone characterized by low sandstone hills
and plains, abounding with canyons and wadis in which winter rains often produce flash floods. Continuing southward, the region
gives way to an area of bare craggy peaks, craters and rock-strewn plateaus, where the climate is drier and the mountains
are higher. Three erosive craters, the largest of which is about 5 miles (8 km.) across and 21 miles (35 km.) long, cut deeply
into the earth's crust, displaying a broad range of colors and rock types. At the tip of the Negev,
near Eilat on the Red Sea, sharp pinnacles of gray and red granite are broken by dry gorges
and sheer cliffs, with colorful layers of sandstone glowing in the sunlight.
The Jordan Valley
and the Arava, are part of the Syrian-African Rift which split the earth's crust millions of years ago. Its northern stretches
are extremely fertile, while the southern portion is semi-arid.
The Jordan River, flowing from north to south through the rift, descends over 2,300
feet (700 m.) in the course of its 186 mile (300 km.) route. Fed by streams from Mount Hermon,
it runs through the fertile Hula Valley
into Lake Kinneret
(Sea of Galilee) and continues winding through the Jordan
Valley before emptying into the Dead Sea.
While it swells during the winter rainy season, the river is usually quite narrow and shallow. Lake Kinneret, nestled between the hills of
Galilee and the Golan at 695 feet (212 m.) below sea level, is 5 miles (8 km.) wide and 13
miles (21 km.) long.
The Arava begins south of the Dead Sea and extends to the Gulf of Eilat, on the Red
Sea. The average annual rainfall is less than one inch (25 mm.) and summer temperatures soar to 104 degF (40 degC).
The sub-tropical Gulf of Eilat,
noted for its deep blue waters, coral reefs and exotic marine life, lies at the southern tip of the Arava.
The Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at about 1,300 feet (400 m.) below sea level,
lies at the southern end of the Jordan Valley.
Its waters, with the highest level of salinity and density in the world, are rich in potash, magnesium and bromine, as well
as in table and industrial salts.
The 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, hot dry summers
and pleasant winters in the Jordan Valley;
and year-round semi-desert 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.