Mountains in Israel
The geography of the Holy Land is incredibly diverse - you can actually dive with tropical fish in the Red Sea, cycle through the Arava and Negev deserts, swim and sunbathe by the Mediterranean Sea all in the space of a day, if you get up early. Something else that’s amazing about Israel is just how many mountains it has. Many tourists aren’t aware of this - they imagine sun, sea and sand, without knowing that within an hour or two’s drive of both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv it’s possible to find amazing places to climb and hike.
Masada Cable Car, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Mountains in Israel are also imbued with religious significance, important to Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. From Mount Sinai, where God gave Jews the Ten Commandments, to the Mount of Temptation (where Jesus battled with Satan), great drama takes place. No less so either in the Quran - in Islamic history, the small hills of Al-Marwah and Al-Safa are the locations between which Muslims travel back and forth during their famous pilgrimage known as the ‘Hajj.’
And for those less interested in history and more in sport, Israel’s a great place to visit if you’re athletic. Whether you want to hike, indulge in some rock climbing, take off on a mountain bike action in Israel, ski and snowboard on Mount Hermon, or rappel down the sides of the Mitzpe Ramon crater in the Negev desert, there’s a tour guide waiting to arrange your excursion in Israel. Below we’re looking at some of these mountain ranges, what makes them important to the pilgrims who visit there and why you should think about visiting a few of them on your trip to Israel.
Mount Arbel near Tiberias. Photo credit: © Dan Porges
Mountains and the Hebrew Bible
Mount Carmel - This coastal mountain range in Haifa is, at its highest point, 5454 m above sea level. The name dates back to biblical times and comes from the Hebrew word ‘kerem’ (‘vineyard’), referring to the mountain’s fertility. Its most important reference in the Old Testament is in Kings 1, where Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal.
Mount Gerizim - Located in the West Bank, just south of Nablus (Shechem) Mount Gerizim rises to 880 m and is the twin of Mount Ebel, which sits to its north. The mountain is mentioned in Deuteronomy 11, as the site where God was to give his blessing to the Jewish people - and this ceremony was subsequently performed in the time of Joshua. Gerizim is also mentioned in the writings of the Roman historian Flavius Josephus and in the rabbinical Talmud.
Mount Gilboa - The Gilboa Ridge runs to around 80 km and rises to a height of 650 meters above sea level. Close to the Great Rift Valley, its slopes are steep and ideal for hiking when in Israel. It is also home to several springs, including Ein Harod and Ein HaShlosha and these are very popular both with tourists and locals. Overlooking the Jordan Valley to the North and the Jezreel Valley to the south, Mount Gilboa is where Saul (Israel’s first King) died (by falling on his own sword) in a battle against the Philistines. When David heard this news, he wept and cursed the mountain.
Hai-Bar Carmel National Park. Photo credit: © Manu Grinspan. Published with permission of the Israel Nature and Parks AuthorityMount Hazor - Located in the West Bank, with Samaria to its north and Judea to its south, Mount Hazor reaches over 1,000 meters at its peak. In Hebrew, ‘Hazor’ means ‘courtyard’ and refers to the wall enclosures that people constructed here in ancient times. In Joshua’s day, it was regarded as the ‘head of all the kingdoms’, and accounts from the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that this is the place where Abraham built an altar and prepared to obey God’s word and sacrifice his son Isaac.
Judaean Mountains - Also known as the Hebron hills, the Judean Mountain range stretches from the foothills of Judea to parts of the Jordan Rift Valley, including important cities such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah. Reaching a height of just over 1,000 meters, they formed the heart of the Kingdom of Judah, where the first Jewish settlements emerged.
After the death of David’s son, King Solomon, the ten northern tribes separated from Judah, and Jerusalem remained the capital of the kingdom of Judah, which continued until 587/586 when the Babylonians conquered it. This majestic mountainscape is also where David hurled a stone at Goliath and Bar Kochba led a revolt against the Romans. Today, it is a wonderful place to hike, enjoy a wine tour/picnic and visit numerous archaeological sites.
Judaean Desert Mountains. Photo by Amit Lahav on UnsplashMount Betarim - This mountain is sacred to two faiths - according to Jewish tradition, it is the spot at which God made his covenant with Abraham and according to Muslim tradition, it is where God commanded Abraham to sacrifice four species of birds, before bringing them back to life.
Сity of David - More than 3,000 years ago, King David left Hebron for a small hilltop city known as Jerusalem; he would later establish it as the capital of the tribes of Israel. Years later, his son Solomon built the First Temple there and, as a result, this hilltop became one of the Holy Land’s most important sites.
Mount Sinai (in Arabic, Jabal Musa) lies on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, rising 2,280 m high, and surrounded by even higher peaks. It is, of course, famous as the spot on which God gave the Israelites (via Moses) the Ten Commandments. Mount Nebo rises 710 m high and is situated in Jordan. It is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the place at which God gave Moses a view of the Promised Land.
Breathtaking Sunrise at the top of Mount Sinai in Egypt. Photo by Vlad Kiselov on Unsplash
Mountains and the Christian Bible
Mount of Beatitudes - Overlooking the Sea of Galilee, this is the place where Jesus was supposed to have given his famous Sermon on the Mount. The exact site is not known but pilgrims commemorate the event at the Church of the Beatitudes, built on the slope of the mount and close to the Tiberias-Rosh Pina road.
Mount Precipice - Located just outside of Nazareth, and almost 400 m high, this mountain offers wonderful views of the surrounding area, as well as beautiful walking paths known by pilgrims as the ‘Gospel Trails’. According to the Gospel of Luke, an angry mob attempted to throw Jesus off this mountain, after his bold sermons in the area.
Mount of Temptation - Rising to 360 m above sea level, and offering wonderful panoramic views of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, this is the spot - near Jericho - at which tradition holds Christ was tempted by the Devil. You can reach the summit only on a steep path, passing by a monastery that literally ‘clings’ to the face of the cliff.
Mount of Transfiguration - According to the Gospel of Matthew, this is the spot at which Jesus underwent his transfiguration - his face shone like the sun and his clothes turned white. Its actual location is unknown - it could be Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon.
Mount Tabor - Located in Galilee, at the eastern end of the Jezreel Valley, although it is not mentioned specifically in the New Testament, Mount Tabor is assumed to be the location of Jesus’s transfiguration (see above).
Mount of Beatitudes Church, Sea of Galilee, Israel. Photo credit: © Shutterstock
Mountains of Jerusalem
Mount of Olives - The Mount of Olives (in Hebrew’ Har HaZeitim’ and in Arabic ‘Jabal Al Tur’) sits east of and next to Jerusalem and is named after the olive terraces that cover the slopes. Referred to frequently both in the Old and New Testaments, it is a sacred spot for Christians, Jews, and also Muslims, and also home to a prominent cemetery.
First mentioned in the Bible as the “ascent of the Mount of Olives”, it is also mentioned in the Book of Zechariah at the end of days prophecy. For Christians, it is the spot where Jesus spent time in the last week of his life, particularly at the Garden of Gethsemane (where he prayed before his arrest) and also as the spot from which he ascended to heaven. For Muslims, the Mount of Olives is where the Kaaba - the black stone from Mecca - will one day return.
Temple Mount (Moriah) - Also known as Haram al-Sharif and Al Aqsa, this hill in Jerusalem is venerated both by Jews and Muslims. For Jews, it is the place where the divine presence manifests itself and where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. For Muslims, it is the site of Mohammed’s ascent to heaven, in 7 CE. Located just above the Western Wall, in recent years its sovereignty has become hotly contested.
Mout of Olives with the Church of Dominus Flevit, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © ShutterstockMount Zion - Situated just outside the Old City Walls, Mount Zion is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (in conjunction with the City of David and also Temple Mount) but today its name refers to the Western Hill of ancient Jerusalem. The word ‘Zion’ certainly has emotional connotations for Jews...it is where God dwells, is King, and has installed his King.
Mount Scopus - At 825 meters high and situated in north-east Jerusalem, Mount Scopus has historically been a strategic point (‘scopus’ in Latin means ‘lookout’) and used by the Romans and Crusaders, as well as the scene for modern-day battles. Between 1948-1967, Mount Scopus was protected by the UN as an Israeli enclave within Jordanian territory. Today it offers panoramic views of the city and is home to the world-famous Hebrew University.
Mount Herzl - Named after Theodor Herzl (the founder of modern Zionism) and also known as Har haZikharon (the Mount of Remembrance) this hill is home to Israel’s national cemetery and also other education and memorial facilities. It is a site of great importance in Israel, being where the state ceremony for the conclusion of Memorial Day and the beginning of Independence Day takes place each year. To its west, sits the Yad Vashem Memorial to the six million murdered in the Holocaust.
Dormition Abbey, Mount Zion. Photo credit: © Sofia Emeliyanova
Famous Mountains in Northern Israel
Mount Hermon - Mount Hermon (or Jabul al-Sheikh, "Mountain of the Sheikh" in Arabic) is a cluster of hills in the Lebanon area, with peaks that sit between the border of Syria and Lebanon. The United Nations is in control of the buffer zone at the top, separating Israel and Syria and its southern slopes are home to a ski resort that is popular with Israelis, though Mount Hermon's weather is characteristic of fog.
Mount Heman soars to 2814 above the sea and is the highest mountain in Israel, surrounded at its base by a number of small Druze villages. Historically, Mount Hermon has been known as a holy place, a snow-capped hill, and also a mountain of great military (strategic) importance. Its springs at the base of the mountain form into streams that eventually make up the Jordan River.
Mount Bental - Located in the Golan Heights, Mount Bental rises 1,170 meters above sea level and provides amazing views of Mount Hermon and the Golan. The overlook is managed by Kibbutz Merom haGolan, the first of its kind established after the Six-Day War in 1967. In 1973, in the Yom Kippur war, this mountain was home to an enormous tank battle and as a result of the huge casualties (100 Israeli tanks were reduced to 7, under extreme enemy fire) was subsequently known as the ‘Valley of Tears.’
Valley of Tears, Golan Heights. Photo credit: © Dmitry MishinMount Arbel - Situated near Tiberias, in the Lower Galilee, this mountain boasts beautiful hiking trails that lead to a fortress-like building, the remains of an ancient synagogue, and stunning views of the Golan Heights. The caves dug into Mount Arbel’s cliffs were historically used as a hiding place for Jews fighting their enemies - the historian Josephus writes of the last Hasmonean rebels who lived in the cliffs and were eventually defeated by the Romans.
Mount Meron - Located close to Safed in the Upper Galilee, Mount Meron has great significance for Jews, being particularly famous for the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and a huge annual celebration of the festival of Lag B’Omer. It is mentioned in the bible as the spot at which Joshua defeated the Canaanite kings and some Jews also believe a cave nearby holds the remains of the famous rabbis Hillel and Shammai.
The Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem. Photo credit: © Shutterstock