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Since the 20th century it has been the object of conflicting claims of Jewish and Arab national movements, and the conflict has led to prolonged violence and, in several instances, open warfare.

The word Palestine derives from Philistia, the name given by Greek writers to the land of the in “Syria Palaestina,” designating the southern portion of the province of Syria, and made its way thence into Arabic, where it has been used to describe the region at least since the early Islamic era.

South of the spur of low hills that approaches the coast at about Yafo (Jaffa), the plain widens into a fertile region known in biblical times as Philistia, a district of orange groves, irrigated orchards, and fields of grain.

Farther northward the Plain of Esdraelon (ʿEmeq Yizreʿel), formed by subsidence along lines of faults, separates the hills of southern Galilee from the mountains of Samaria.

After Roman times the name had no official status until after World War I and the end of rule by the Ottoman Empire, when it was adopted for one of the regions mandated to Great Britain; in addition to an area roughly comprising present-day Israel and the West Bank, the mandate included the territory east of the Jordan River now constituting the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan, which Britain placed under an administration separate from that of Palestine immediately after receiving the mandate for the territory.

The Jordan Valley is a deep rift valley that varies in width from 1.5 to 14 miles (2.5 to 22 km).

The strategic importance of the area is immense: through it pass the main roads from Egypt to Syria and from the Mediterranean to the hills beyond the Jordan River.

Settlement depends closely on water, which is almost never abundant.

North of the Bet Netofa Valley (Plain of Asochis) is Upper Galilee, with elevations of 4,000 feet (1,200 metres), a scrub-covered limestone plateau that is thinly populated.

To the south, Lower Galilee—with its highest peak, Samaria, the region of the ancient kingdom of Israel, is a hilly district extending from the Plain of Esdraelon to the latitude of Ramallah.

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