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Geography of Palestine

Historical Palestine is located in Western Asia, between latitudes 29,30 and 33,15 north and longitudes 24,10 and 35,40 east of Greenwich. Palestine is bordered on the west by the Mediterranean, with a coastline that is 230 kilometers (km) long; on the east by Syria, with whom it shares a border of 70 km, and Jordan, with whom it shares a border of 360 km; on the north by Lebanon (and Syria), sharing with them a border of 79 km; and on the south by the Sinai and the Gulf of Aqaba. The border from Taba, on the Gulf of Aqaba, to Rafah, on the Mediterranean, is approximately 240 km long. The Palestinian coast on the Gulf of Aqaba is 10.5 km long.

The border between Historical Palestine, on the one hand, and Lebanon and Syria, on the other, was determined in accordance with the Anglo-French Agreement concluded on 23 December 1920. That between Palestine and Trans-Jordan (as it was known at that time) was determined by the British High Commissioner for Palestine and Trans-Jordan on 1 September 1922. The border between Palestine and Egypt was determined by the agreement concluded on 1 October 1906 between the Khideve of Egypt and the Ottoman Government.

Palestine has an oblong shape, measuring from north to south some 430 km. Its width varies from 51 to 70 km in the north and from 72 to 95 km in the middle. In the south, however, it becomes wider, extending to some 117 km. It then narrows again into a triangular shape, the tip of which touches on the Red Sea. .

The total surface area of Palestine is approximately 27,000 km2 (10,429 square miles), out of which 704 km2 (272 square miles) is water surface, constituting Lake Hula, Lake Tiberias and one half of the Dead Sea.

Palestinian Topography

1. The coastal area;
2. The mountainous area, including intervening plains;
3. Al-Ghor (The Rift Valley), including the Araba Valley;
4. The area of Be'r es-Sabe' (Beersheba) and the Desert.

The Coastal Area

The Palestinian coast extends from Ras Al-Naqura in the north to Rafah in the south. It forms almost a straight line, except for the Bay of Acre. This coastal plain covers an area of 3244 km2, varying in width from 8 to 16 km near Acre. It narrows at the foot of Mount Carmel to almost 180 meters. South of Mount Carmel, it widens again, varying from 10 to 11 km and extends unevenly thereafter, reaching 21 km in the vicinity of Jaffa. It extends further east in the vicinity of Gaza, reaching 32 km and overlapping with the area of Be'r es-Sabe'.

The Mountainous Area

This area covers 8612 km2. It runs in the middle of the country north to south, forming its backbone and covering two-thirds of its width. On the west, it starts from the edge of the coastal plain with a range of chalk and limestone hills separated from the high mountains by wide shallow valleys. The Palestinian Mountains form a southward extension of the Lebanese Mountains. They form a large plateau, ending to the north of Be'r es-Sabe'. It is divided into two parts: the northern part is know as the Galilee Mountains, which slope southwards to the Marj Ibn Amer (the Vale of Esdralon), which separates it from the southern part. The latter is the Central Plateau, extending to the southern part of the country, which is divided into two parts: the Nablus Mountains and the Jerusalem Mountains. Both parts form one natural mass, with no dividing lines in between. The mountains slope gently to the west, but sharply to the east, particularly the area overlooking the Dead Sea. Much of the Galilee Mountains are formed of basalt stone, whereas the other parts are, like the southern mountains, formed of limestone, with varying degrees of disintegration.

Al-Ghor (The Rift Valley)

This area lies in the eastern part of the country, on the border with Jordan and Syria. The Jordan River and its lakes run through this area from north to south. The Al-Ghor forms part of the Great Depression that starts from the Toros Mountains in Asia Minor and continues south through Syria, the Dead Sea, the Valley of Araba and the Gulf of Aqaba, ending up in Lake Victoria in central Africa. This depression was formed by a sudden fissure in the earth's crust. The northern part of the Al-Ghor is called the Plain of Al-Hula. It is only 8 km wide, with an area of 262 km2. The part, which lies between Lake Tiberias in the north and the Dead Sea in the south, is known as the Jordan Valley, with an area of 681 km2.

The Jordan River, the lakes and the Dead Sea

The Jordan River, also known as Al-Shari'a, springs from the eastern and western foothills of Jabal esh-Shaykh (Mount Hermon), which lies in the southern border area between Syria and Lebanon. It has 4 headsprings: Banias, Tell El-Qadhi, El-Hasbani and El-Bregheith. Lake Hula is 5 km long and less than 3 km wide. It was drained in 1958. The Jordan flows south from Lake Hula, descending in its course from 210 to 636 feet below sea level at the northern end of Lake Tiberias. The pear-shaped lake is 21 km long and 12 km wide (at its widest point), covering an area of 162 km2. It is situated at 212 meters below sea level. After exiting Lake Tiberias, the Jordan River continues its course southwards, emptying in the Dead Sea. The distance from Lake Tiberias to the Dead Sea, measured as the crow flies, is only 104 km, but because of its ever-winding course the river measures 194 km. The Jordan is not, in general, a navigable river because of its currents, winding course and shallow waters. The Dead Sea (also known as Lake Lot) is situated at the lowest point of the Al-Ghor. This oblong body of water is 76 km long and 17 km wide (at its widest point), covering an area of 1,050 km2. It is bordered by mountains varying in height from 427 to 457 meters. The surface of the Dead Sea is 392 meters below sea level, which makes it the lowest point on earth. It is called the Dead Sea because there is no life in it and its water is intensely saline.

The area of Be'r es-Sabe' and the Desert

This is the triangle-shaped southern part of Palestine, the apex of which lies at the Al-Murashash on the Gulf of Aqaba. It covers all the area between Gaza and Hebron districts, the Sinai and Jordan south of the Dead Sea. This district covers an area of 12,577 km2, i.e., almost half of the total area of Palestine. More than 10,500 km, of this area is desert, extending south of the line connecting Al-Auja, Aslouj and Kurnub. It consists of a series of hills extending east-west, interspersed by stony plains unevenly spread. The lower slopes of these hills are covered with rock and pebbles. Some scattered areas are covered with wind-driven sands.