Home / Israel / Geography, Climate, and Population

Geography of Israel

The Negev Desert. Photo: Or Hiltch.

Israel is bordered by Lebanon in the north, Jordan and Palestine (the West Bank) in the east, Syria in the north-east, the Mediterranean Sea to the west and Palestine (the Gaza Strip) and Egypt to the south-west. Israel covers a total area of 20,770 km2, of which 440 km2 is fresh water.[1] The two main water bodies are Lake Kinneret, a freshwater lake covering 166 km 2, and the hyper-saline, 605 km2 Dead Sea, which is shared with the Palestinian West Bank and Jordan.

In the north, the hills and mountains in Upper and Lower Galilee receive ample rainfall, making this area rich in agricultural land. To the east, the Jordan Rift Valley (JRV) is part of the 6,500 km Syrian-East African Rift.[2] In Israel the JRV is dominated by the Jordan River, which flows from the foothills of Mount Hermon to Lake Kinneret and on to the Dead Sea over a total distance of 223 km.[3] The Mediterranean coastal plains extend between 5 km and 40 km inland, with occasional cliffs in the north. More than half of the country’s population lives in this region, primarily in and around Tel Aviv and Haifa. The Negev Desert in the south covers 12,000 km2, more than half of Israel’s total area. From north to south the region gets drier and the landscape changes from hills and plateaus to peaks and valleys until it reaches the Gulf of Eilat. The Negev experiences year-round semi-desert conditions whereas the Arava Valley on the country’s eastern border experiences full desert conditions.[4]

Climate and Population

Situated between the temperate and tropical zones, Israel has a subtropical climate with two main seasons: a rainy winter period from November to May, and a dry summer season for the remaining six months. The north generally experiences dry summers and moderately cold winters, the Jordan Valley and the Arava Valley have hot, dry summers and pleasant winters, while the coast is humid in the summer with mild winters, and the southern deserts are known for their low precipitation and high summer temperatures. Annual average precipitation is estimated at around 800 mm in the north, 400 mm in the centre and 20 mm around Eilat.[5]

Israel’s population has grown from an estimated 806,000 inhabitants in 1948 to around 7.73 million people in 2013 – an increase of more than 800% in 67 years.[6] Based on population growth in recent years (1.8%), this figure is expected to increase to 15.6 million people by 2050 (Fig. 2).[7] Average population density in Israel is estimated at 372 inhabitants per square kilometre (inhab/km2),[8] a dramatic increase from 43 inhab/km2 in 1948.[9]

Figure 2. Population growth in Israel 1949-2050 (millions). Source: Fanack based on Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics; Statistical Abstract of Israel 2009.
Figure 2. Population growth in Israel 1949-2050 (millions). Source: Fanack based on Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics; Statistical Abstract of Israel 2009.

Sunset in the Negev Desert, Israel. Photo: Matthew Parker.
Sunset in the Negev Desert, Israel. Photo: Matthew Parker.


[1] CIA World Factbook, 2015. Israel.
[2] FAO Aquastat, 2008. Israel.
[3] UN-ESCWA & BGR, 2013. ‘The Jordan River Basin’. In: Inventory of Shared Water Resources in Western Asia.
[4] Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Land: Geography and Climate.
[5] Ibid.
[6] FAO-Aquastat, 2015. Country Fact Sheet: Israel.
[7] Israel Water Authority, 2012. Long-Term Master Plan for the National Water Sector Part A – Policy Document Version 4.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, 2009. Israel in Statistics, 1948-2007.