Palestine's boundaries, never constant, always included at least the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. So defined, the region is c.140 mi (225 km) long and c.30 to c.70 mi (50–115 km) wide. Outside these bounds were such biblical lands as Edom, Gilead, Moab, and Hauran. The British mandate of Palestine (1920–48) included also the Negev, a c.100-mile-long (160-km) desert stretching S to the Gulf of Aqaba.
From east to west, Palestine proper comprises three geographic zones: the depression—northernmost extension of the Great Rift Valley—in which lies the Jordan River, Lake Hula, the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias), the Dead Sea, and the Arabah, a dry valley S of the Dead Sea; a ridge rising steeply to the west of this cleft; and a coastal plain c.12 mi (20 km) wide. In N Palestine the ridge is interrupted by the Plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel) and the connecting valley of Bet Shean (Beisan), the most fertile part of the region. The highland area to the north is called Galilee, its chief centers being Zefat and Nazareth, near which rises Mt. Tabor. To the south of the Plain of Esdraelon the broad ridge stretches unbroken to the Negev. First there are the hills of Samaria, with northward prongs (to the east Gilboa and to the west Mt. Carmel) fronting on the Bay of Acre. The center of Samaria is Nablus, which lies between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. The mountains of Judaea are W of the Dead Sea. In Judaea are Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron. Well to the south, in the Negev, lies Beersheba.
The towns of the coastal plain are Akko (Acre), Haifa, Netanya, and the twin cities of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Near Tel Aviv are Petah Tiqwa, Lod, Ramla, and Rehovot. To the south is Gaza. The various sections of the plain are named the Valley of Zebulun, or Plain of Acre, S of Akko; Sharon, S of Mt. Carmel; and the Shephelah, or Philistia, in the extreme south.
Agriculture in the Jordan valley centers around Lake Hula and the Sea of Galilee. The chief town is Tiberias. Farther south the valley is too narrow to be of much use, except for providing water power, and there is only one city, Jericho, E of Jerusalem. The surface—c.1,300 ft (400 m) below sea level—of the Dead Sea, into which the Jordan empties, is the lowest spot on the earth's surface.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.