A Little Geography Lesson

My husband and I have been driving down to Ramat Gan/Kiryat-Ono, suburbs just Southeast of Tel Aviv, every day for the last few weeks. It’s about a two hour drive from where we live in the North, and has afforded us the opportunity to see quite a bit of the country and gain a broader perspective on where we live.

Most people have heard that Israel is a tiny country. But, just how tiny is it? And exactly where is Israel located? What about the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and Gaza? Driving through the country gives a unique view, and clarity even more than looking at maps, but today we’ll do both.

Israel is situated on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. This little sliver of land is only 420 km/261mi long. Putting it another way, it’s about a seven hour drive from Metulla, the most Northern town on the Lebanese border to Eilat, the Southernmost city on the Red Sea. At its widest point, Israel stretches 115km/71 mi from The Mediterranean to the Dead Sea. About an hour and a half drive.

That little orange slice on the map above will show just how small the country is, especially when viewed in comparison with the surrounding neighbors.

The trip we take is beautiful in the late spring with all the flowers blooming and the olive orchards of the North and myriad vineyards lining the hillsides. The golden sheaves of wheat and barley are just being harvested. Along the newly developed superhighway, Route 6, we pass little Jewish hilltop villages, most looking like pristine Southern California towns.

About an hour into our trip, Route 6 runs parallel to the border wall separating Israel from the West Bank. The wall is a necessity against the terror attacks from the Palestinian Territory. When I’ve asked people back in the States how big they think the West Bank is, the typical answer is that it is a very small, densely packed area the size of Manhattan in NewYork or the Conejo Valley in Southern California. In actuality, it occupies about 30% of Israel’s landmass. See the map below:

From the city of Beersheva, South, it’s all desert. There are small farms cropping up throughout the desert region, with irrigation and hydroponic farms dotting the sand, but for the most part, the South is inhabited by Bedouins. The area between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is the most heavily built-up and populated area, where the high tech sector is, and the largest cities and their sprawling suburbs.

By passing through checkpoints guarded by the IDF, one can drive through the West Bank in some areas. Route 90 winds it’s way through Samaria and Judea roughly paralleling the Jordan River from the North to the Dead Sea – about a four hour drive by car. There are a few Jewish settlements there, neat homes and well-irrigated farmland have turned these areas from sparsely-used wilderness to thriving agricultural communities. But most of the West Bank is a “no-go zone” to Israelis. Not patrolled by the IDF, much to popular thought. Controlled exclusively by the Palestinian Authority (Abbas/Abu Mazen). Signs reading “Enter at Risk to Your Life.”

So much for “Occupation.” We are NOT ALLOWED to go beyond the sign. Israel has no place in these territories. Israel is not an occupying force in the West Bank Area A, which is most of the area. It’s a jumbled up jigsaw of who owns what. Area B is under dual control and the tiny scattered areas of Area C is opened to, settled and owned by mostly Jews.

A couple things really amazed us. First, from the West Bank border on Route 6, it is possible to see the Mediterranean Sea and coastal cities on Israel’s western border. It’s a mere 7 miles from Qalqaliyya or Tulkarm across Israel at its narrowest. Think of it…. 7 miles is all it takes to cross/ divide the country! It seems to me that this could be a threat to national security, but….

The tall buildings in the background make up the lovely, upscale coastal community of Netanya. This photo was snapped from the car looking into Israel proper from the highway. Tel Aviv is 12 miles from “Palestine.” Traveling on the Route 6 toll road, we see their cities, the Palestinian flag, the many mosques. The Arab cities have no/few trees, parks or recreational areas by their own design, unlike the Jewish towns. Their homes are mostly flat-roofed, boxy structures of multiple stories, mostly of unfinished architecture.

And across the highway, as we approach the area between Ra’anana and Petakh Tikvah, outside Tel Aviv, there are more Arab villages, mixed Muslim and Christian.

Driving West off the 6, we enter into the TelAviv suburbs, which are packed with the new construction of high rise apartments. The difference between the rolling mountains and rural feel of the North lies in direct contrast to the big city life of the central coastal plain.

In my next blogs, we’ll travel to some of these cities and explore a few of the sights there. We are trying to take a bit of time to discover other parts of the country we’ve not frequented and get a feel for what the Merkaz, Central Israel, has to offer. I hope you’ll join us!

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