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Rainbow Cave (a natural arch) on the northern ridge of Nahal Betzet, Galilee

Galilee (Hebrew: הגלילHaGalil, lit: the province, Ancient Greek: Γαλιλαία, Latin: Galilaea, Arabic: الجليلal-Jalīl) is a large region in northern Israel which overlaps with much of the administrative North District and Haifa District of the country. Traditionally divided into Upper Galilee (Hebrew: גליל עליוןGalil Elyon), Lower Galilee (Hebrew: גליל תחתוןGalil Tahton), and Western Galilee (Hebrew: גליל מערביGalil Ma'aravi), extending from Dan to the north, at the base of Mount Hermon, along Mount Lebanon to the ridges of Mount Carmel and Mount Gilboa north of Jenin and Tulkarm to the south, and from the Jordan Rift Valley to the east across the plains of the Jezreel Valley and Acre to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the coastal plain in the west.


Most of Galilee consists of rocky terrain, at heights of between 500 and 700 metres. There are several high mountains in the region, including Mount Tabor and Mount Meron, which have relatively low temperatures and high rainfall. As a result of this climate, flora and wildlife thrive in the region, while many birds annually migrate from colder climates to Africa and back through the Hula–Jordan corridor. The streams and waterfalls, the latter mainly in Upper Galilee, along with vast fields of greenery and colourful wildflowers, as well as numerous towns of biblical importance, make the region a popular tourist destination.

Due to its high rainfall (900–1200 mm), mild temperatures and high mountains (Mount Meron's elevation is 1,000–1,208 metres), the upper Galilee region contains some distinctive flora and fauna: prickly juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus), Lebanese cedar (Cedrus libani), which grows in a small grove on Mount Meron, cyclamens, paeonias and Rhododendron ponticum which sometimes appears on Meron.


Ancient and classic antiquity[edit]

Map of Galilee, c. 50 CE

According to the Hebrew Bible, the Galilee was named by the Israelites and was the tribal region of Naphthali and Dan at times overlapping Asher's land,[1] however Dan was dispersed among the whole people rather than isolated to the lands of Dan, the caste of the Tribe of Dan were as the hereditary local law enforcement and judiciary for the whole nation.[2][non-primary source needed] Normally, the Galilee is just referred to as Nafthali. Chapter 9 of Isaiah, and verified by Josephus[3] as the belief of the Jews, that Solomon later rewarded his Phoenecian ally, King Hiram I, the Galilee for the nations. So that he could reciprocate previous gifts given to David, he accepted the upland plain among the mountains of Naphtali. Hiram renamed it "the land of Cabul" for a time.[citation needed] The region's Israelite name is from the Hebrew root galil, an ultimately unique word for "district", and usually "circle", a noun which has standardized since antiquity in Hebrew grammar, to be in the construct state, and requires a genitival noun. Hence the Biblical "Galilee of the non-Jewish Nations", Hebrew "galil goyim" (Isaiah 9:1), it previously had other suffixes and following the end of the Phoenecian Empire had different suffixes to the Hebrew culture and its derivatives interchangeably. The "nations" would have been the foreigners who came to settle there, during and after Hiram I of Sidon, or who had been forcibly deported there by later conquerors such as the Assyrians. The region in turn gave rise to the English name for the legendary "Sea of Galilee" referred to as such in many languages including ancient Arabic; however the Jews maintained other Hebrew names for the lake, usually Kinneret (Numbers 34:11, etc.), from Hebrew kinnor, "harp", describing its shape, Lake of Gennesaret (Luke 5:1, etc.), from Ginosar (Hebrew) ge, "valley", and either netser, "branch", or natsor, "to guard", "to watch" (the name which may have been a reference to Nazareth city, alternatively renamed the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1, etc.), from the town of Tiberias at its southwestern end, named after the Greek Tiberius following the 1st-century CE Roman Emperor's Greek derived name. Which are the three names used in originally internal Jewish authored literature rather than the "Sea of Galilee".[4] However, Jews did use "the Galilee" to refer to the whole region (Aramaic הגלילי), including its lake.

In Roman times, the country was divided into Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, which comprised the whole northern section of the country, and was the largest of the three regions under the tetrarchy. When Iudaea became a Roman province, formed from a merger of Judea, Samaria and Idumea, Galilee was briefly a part of it, then separated from it for two to three centuries. The Galilee region was presumably the home of Jesus during at least 30 years of his life. Jesus was brought to Galilee by his parents Joseph and Mary after learning of the death of Herod while residing in Egypt (Matthew 2:19-23). The first three Gospels of the New Testament are mainly an account of Jesus' public ministry in this province, particularly in the towns of Nazareth and Capernaum. Galilee is also cited as the place where Jesus performed many public miracles including curing a blind man.

Many of the important Tannaim the basis for the Talmud claim to have also spent their lives there, including Honi HaMagil, Jose the Galilean, Ishmael the Galilean among many others. Traditional rabbinic sources assert the followers of the rabbis from the Galilee were widely reputed to believe their teachers (rabbis) were miracle workers, as opposed to Jews from Judea proper, Persia and Babylon who rarely are credited with miracles. Many are cited for their large number of students and followers throughout the Jewish People[5] among the common people. The Galilee to the Jews was known as a wellspring of miracle workers and mystical philosophers of all types, especially just prior to the major split between Jesus followers and those who opposed Jesus. According to the Talmud, one of the most important founders of the modern Jewish faith, Johanan bin Zakkai was born there. Shimon Bar Yochi one of the most famed of all the leaders of that era's Jewish miracle worker's sect, hid from the Romans in the Galilee, and dug tunnels there to hide, many "miracles" are ascribed to him during his Galilean period escaping Judea proper. In medaeal Hebrew legend, he may have written the Zohar while there.[6] The archaeological discoveries of Synagogues from the Helenistic and Roman period in the Galilee do show strong Phoenecian influences, and a high level of tolerance for other cultures[7] relative to other Jewish sacred sites from the period, the latter being "cleansed of impurities". Eastern Galilee, retained Jewish majority until 7th century.[citation needed]

Middle Ages[edit]

After the Arab caliphate took control of the region in 638, it became part of Jund al-Urrdun (District of Jordan). Its major towns were Tiberias (which was capital of the district—Qadas), Baysan, Acre, Saffuriya and Kabul.[8]

The Shia Fatimids conquered the region in the 10th century; a breakaway sect, venerating the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim, formed the Druze religion, centered in Mount Lebanon and partially Galilee. During the Crusades, Galilee was organized into the Principality of Galilee, one of the most important Crusader seigneuries.

Ottoman era[edit]

The Jewish population of Galilee increased significantly following their expulsion from Spain and welcome from the Ottoman Empire. The community for a time made Safed an international center of cloth weaving and manufacturing, as well as a key site for Jewish learning.[9] Today it remains one of Judaism's four holy cities and a center for kabbalah.

In the mid-18th century, Galilee was caught up in a struggle between the Bedouin leader Dhaher al-Omar and the Ottoman authorities who were centred in Damascus. Al-Omar ruled Galilee for 25 years until Ottoman loyalist Jezzar Pasha conquered the region in 1775.

In 1831 the Galilee, a part of Ottoman Syria, switched hands from Ottomans to Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt until 1840. During this period aggressive social and politic policies were introduced, which led to a violent 1834 Arab revolt. In the process of this revolt the Jewish community of Sefad was greatly reduced, in an event of Safed Plunder by the rebels. The Arab rebels were subsequently defeated by the Egyptian troops, though in 1838 the Druze of Galilee led another uprising. In 1834 and 1837 major earthquakes leveled most of the towns, resulting in great loss of life. 1866 saw the founding of the Galilee's first hospital--the Nazareth Hospital, under the leadership of American-Armenian missionary Dr. Kaloost Vartan, assisted by German missionary John Zeller.

The territory of the Ottoman Beirut Vilayet, encompassing the Galilee

In the early 20th century, Galilee remained part of Ottoman Syria. It was administered as the southernmost territory of the Beirut Vilayet (established in 1888).

British administration and Israeli rule[edit]

Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, and the Armistice of Mudros, it came under British rule, as part of the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration. Shortly after, in 1920 the region was included in the British Mandate territory, officially a part of Mandatory Palestine from 1923.

After the 1948 Arab–Israeli war nearly the whole of Galilee came under Israel's control. A large portion of the population fled or were forced to leave, leaving dozens of entire villages empty; however, a large Israeli Arab community remained based in and near the cities of Nazareth, Acre, Tamra, Sakhnin and Shefa-'Amr, due to some extent to a successful rapprochement with the Druze. The kibbutzim around the Sea of Galilee were sometimes shelled by the Syrian army's artillery until Israel seized the Golan Heights in the 1967 Six-Day War.

During the 1970s and the early 1980s, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) launched several attacks on towns of the Upper and Western Galilee from Lebanon. Israel initiated Operation Litani (1979) and Operation Peace For Galilee (1982) with the stated objectives of destroying the PLO infrastructure in Lebanon and protecting the citizens of the Galilee. Israel occupied much of Southern Lebanon until 1985 when it withdrew to a narrow security buffer zone.

Until 2000, Hezbollah, and earlier Amal, continued to fight the Israeli Defence Forces, sometimes shelling Upper Galilee communities with Katyusha rockets. In May 2000, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak unilaterally withdrew IDF troops from southern Lebanon, maintaining a security force on the Israeli side of the international border recognized by the United Nations. However, clashes between Hezbollah and Israel continued along the border, and UN observers condemned both for their attacks.

The 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict was characterized by round-the-clock Katyusha rocket attacks (with a greatly extended range) by Hezbollah on the whole of Galilee, with long-range ground-launched missiles, hitting as far south as the Sharon plain, Jezreel Valley, and Jordan Valley below the Sea of Galilee.


Sign in front of the Galil Jewish–Arab School, a joint Arab-Jewish primary school in the Galile

The largest cities in the region are Acre, Nahariya, Nazareth, Safed, Karmiel, Shaghur, Afula, and Tiberias.[10] The port city of Haifa serves as a commercial center for the whole region.

Because of its hilly terrain, most of the people in the Galilee live in small villages connected by relatively few roads.[11] A railroad runs south from Nahariya along the Mediterranean coast. The main sources of livelihood throughout the area are in the fields of agriculture and tourism. Industrial parks are being developed, bringing further employment opportunities to the local population which includes many recent immigrants. The Israeli government is contributing funding to the private initiative, The Galilee Finance Facility, organised by the Milken Institute and Koret Economic Development Fund.[12]

Galilee is home to a large Arab population, with a particularly large Druze population.[13] The central portion of the Galilee also known as the "Heart of the Galilee" stretching from the border with Lebanon to the northern edge of the Jezreel Valley including the cities of Nazareth, Sakhnin, Shaghur, Tamra and Kafr Kanna has an Arab population of 75% with most of the Jewish population living in small hilltop towns, and cities like Karmiel, and Ma'alot. Meanwhile the eastern Galilee including the Finger of the Galilee, the Jordan River Valley, and the Region around the Sea of Galilee are nearly 100% Jewish. The Southern part of the Galilee; including Jezreel Valley, and the Gilboa region are also nearly 100% Jewish with only a few small Arab villages near the West Bank border. At the same time about 80% of the population of the Western Galilee is Jewish. The region directly under the Lebanese Border, especially in the Northwest is largely Jewish as well. The Jewish Agency has attempted to increase the Jewish population in this area,[14] but the non-Jewish population continues to grow. In 2006, out of the 1.2 million residents in the Galilee area some 53.1% were of various minorities, while only 46.9% were Jewish.[15]

Currently, the Galilee is attracting significant internal migration of Haredi Jews, who are increasingly moving to the Galilee and Negev as an answer to rising housing prices in central Israel.[16]


Galilee is a popular destination for domestic and foreign tourists who enjoy its scenery, recreational, and gastronomic offerings. The Galilee attracts many Christian pilgrims, as many of the miracles of Jesus occurred, according to the New Testament, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee—including his walking on water, calming the storm, and his feeding five thousand people in Tabgha. In addition, numerous sites of biblical importance are located in the Galilee, such as Megiddo, Jezreel Valley, Mount Tabor, Hazor, Horns of Hattin and more.

A popular hiking trail known as the "yam leyam", or sea to sea, starts hikers at the Mediterranean. They then hike through the Galilee mountains, Tabor, Neria, and Meron until their final destination, the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

In April 2011, Israel unveiled the "Jesus Trail", a 40 mile (60-kilometre) hiking trail in the Galilee for Christian pilgrims. the trail includes a network of footpaths, roads and bicycle paths linking sites central to the lives of Jesus and his disciples, including Tabgha, the traditional site of Jesus' miracle of the loaves and fishes, and the Mount of Beatitudes, where he delivered his Sermon on the Mount. It ends at Capernaum on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus espoused his teachings.[17]

The Church of the Transfiguration

Many kibbutzim and moshav families operate Zimmers (German: "rooms", the local term for a B&B). Numerous festivals are held throughout the year, especially in the autumn and spring holiday seasons. These include the Acre (Acco) Festival of Alternative Theater,[18] the olive harvest festival, and music festivals featuring Anglo-American folk, klezmer, Renaissance, and chamber music.


Galilee is often divided into the following sub-regions:

See also[edit]

Panorama of the Harod valley, part of the Jezreel Valley
Panorama from Har HaAri in the upper Galilee


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Gen. 49:16 earliest reference among others
  3. ^ Mentioned multiple times once in Against Apion
  4. ^ Room, Adrian, 2nd Ed.(2006)) "[2]" p.138.
  5. ^ Mishnah Ta'anit 3:8 is one example in it Honi prays for rain, dancing and drawing circles and geometric patterns, on behalf of the Jewish agricultural community, and receiving rain [3] for the original Mishnah's Hebrew of one version of that story. Hony does other "miracles" for the people of the Galilee elsewhere in Jewish lore.
  6. ^ [4]
  7. ^ [5]
  8. ^ Le Strange, Guy. (1890) Palestine Under the Moslems pp.30-32.
  9. ^ Safed/Tsfat
  10. ^ "Places To Visit In Israel". govisitisrae. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  11. ^ "Galilee in Jesus' Time Was a Center of Change". Ancient History. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  12. ^ Matthew Krieger (November 19, 2007). "Gov't expected to join financing of huge northern development project". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  13. ^ "In Galilee, Israeli Arabs finding greener grass in Jewish areas". JTA. Nov 3, 2008. Retrieved 25 July 2013. 
  14. ^ "30 settlements planned for Negev and Galilee". 2003-08-08. Retrieved 2008-01-19. 
  15. ^ Ofer Petersburg (December 12, 2007). "Jewish population in Galilee declining". Ynet. Retrieved 2008-02-01. 
  16. ^ [6]
  17. ^ Daniel Estrin, Canadian Press (April 15, 2011). "Israel unveils hiking trail in Galilee for Christian pilgrims". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 2011-05-16. 
  18. ^ Acco Festival

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainEaston, Matthew George (1897). "article name needed". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons. 

Further reading[edit]