Israel lies on the sole land link between Africa and Europe at the eastern
end of the Mediterranean. The Great Rift Valley separates the mountains of today's
Jordan from the hills of Samaria and Judea (today's West Bank). Samaria and Judea
separate the Rift Valley from the Coastal Plain.
Terra rosa soil, weathered from limestone, covers most of Israel; in the north-east
volcanoes overlaid these with black basalt; near the Red Sea, granite, sandstone and limestone
blend in a rich variety of colors.
Rain falls only in winter, from 40" in the north to 1/2" in the south, washing the soil
down into the valleys, leaving little on the hills, but creating, particularly in the
north, a relatively fertile subsystem. These radical changes in topography and climate result in a vibrant variety of wildflowers, life in the wild and cultivation.
This tiny area gave birth, first to Judaism, then Christianity, and became important to
Islam. In antiquity this land was caught up in a tug of war between the superpowers of
Egypt to the south-west, and Mesopotamia (Nineveh, Babylon, Persia) or Anatolya (under
the Hittites) to the east and north. Alexander the Great (4th century BCE) introduced
Greek ways, reinforced by Rome who eventually (135) expelled the Jews, renaming Judea,
Palestina. The takeover of the Roman Empire from within by Christianity, turned
Palestine from a backwater province into an important center. Shortly after Mohammed's death (about 632), Omar led the Arabs to spread Islam beyond Arabia. Palestine fell in 638
since when, with a European interlude (Crusader rule 1099 - 1291)
until the mid-20th century it remained predominantly Arab. Moslem Turkey ruled from 1517
until the British conquered the Middle East in 1917-1918.
The order established by the British Mandate facilitated the Zionist
movement, born in the 1880's, and the Jewish population grew. After the Second World War the UN voted (November 29, 1947) to partition
British-created Palestine into Arab and Jewish states. Arab rejection
and invasion in 1948 led to war: Palestine was divided between Egypt,
Jordan and Israel.
Israel's borders have undergone modification in a series of wars but the
western, southern and northern borders appear to be generally
recognized. The eastern border is still to be defined.