Is Galilee a Country?

The Galilee Mountains in Israel.
The Galilee Mountains in Israel.

Galilee is not a country, but is a region in the northern part of Israel. Traditionally, the term Galilee referred to the mountainous part, and was divided into Upper Galilee and Lower Galilee. In modern times, Galilee refers to the area beyond Mount Carmel to the northeast, from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Jordan Valley in the east, and from the ridges of Mount Gilboa and Mount Carmel in the south to the city of Tel Dan in the north. Galilee overlaps with Israel’s Northern District, which includes parts of Menashe Heights and Golan Heights. Historically, parts of south Lebanon also belonged to Galilee.

History of Galilee

During the first century, Galilee was dotted by numerous small villages and towns along the Sea of Galilee. However, after the death of Herod the Great, Emperor Augustus named Herod Antipas the ruler of Galilee, which was a Roman client state. The Romans did not have troops in Galilee, but threatened to retaliate against any kingdom that attacked the region as long as Antipas remained loyal to the Roman Empire. Antipas observed most Jewish laws, and was generally considered a capable leader who ruled the area for 43 years. The Arab caliphate took over Galilee in 638, and made it part of Jund al-Urdunn. Some of Galilee’s largest towns included Kabul, Acre, Baysan, and Tiberias. The region was later conquered by the Shia Fatimids in the tenth century.

During the Ottoman era, Safad-Sanjak governed Galilee as part of Damascus Eyalet. Galilee’s administrative division was renamed Acre Sanjak during the eighteenth century. The Jewish population grew immensely in Galilee after being expelled from Spain. During the mid-nineteenth century, Galilee and Mount Lebanon became the site of the Druze-power struggle, which resulted in the destruction or decline of many of its cities. The administration of Galilee switched from the Ottomans to Pasha Ibrahim briefly, from 1831 until 1840. Galilee remained part of Acre Sanjak until the twentieth century, when the Ottoman Empire was defeated during the First World War.

When Did Galilee Become Part of Israel?

Galilee became part of the British Mandate territory in 1920, and part of Mandatory Palestine in 1923. Following the 1948 Israeli-Arab War, Israel took control of Galilee, and a large percentage of the population left the region, leaving numerous empty villages. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) initiated numerous attacks on towns in Upper and Western Galilee during the 1970s and 1980s. Israel responded by initiating Operation Litani and Operation Peace for Galilee, which aimed to destroy the PLO’s infrastructures in Lebanon.

Demographics of Galilee

Galilee had an estimated population of 1.2 million in 2006. The Jewish population in Galilee represents approximately 47% of this total, and the region is also home to a large Arab community that is composed of Muslim Arabs and two small communities of Arab Christians and Druze. Other minority groups in the region include the Circassians, Maronites, and Bedouins. More than 75% of the people living in Central Galilee are Arabs, while the Jewish population is highly concentrated in hilltop towns and cities like Upper-Nazareth. Additionally, nearly all of the population in Eastern Galilee identify as Jewish. There are also large Jewish populations in Gilboa, Jezreel Valley, and Western Galilee.


More in World Facts