One of the strangest tourist purchases in Israel is a wooden camel with the word “Jerusalem” printed on it. First of all, there are and were no camels in Jerusalem. Secondly, its continued sales suggest that tourists view Israel as a great desert, a smaller version of the Sahara if you will. The reality is that Israel is a small country with a rather wide variety of landscapes, flora, fauna and climates.
The coastal region is flat and humid, albeit with some sand dunes where developers have not yet received building permits. Inland, north and south are very different. The Galilee gently rises from coast, reaching its peak at Mount Hermon, some 9,000 feet above sea level and dropping to the Sea of the Galilee, some 700 feet below sea level. Rain is plentiful by local standards, meaning that flora thrives most of the year. The summers can be hot, but are far less humid.
Continuing eastwards, the Golan Heights, barely an hour’s drive from the Galilee, is a high volcanic plain, punctuated by gorges and flowing rivers (streams in other countries). Hot in the summer and cold, even snowing, in the winter, it is a place rich with plants, including wineries, and animals with few human inhabitants. My wife and I recently spend a weekend there and enjoyed the view and noise, specifically the tweets of all the birds at our window unaccompanied by rumble of vehicle motors.
In the center of the country, a steep road leads to Jerusalem, some 2000 feet above sea level, surrounded by mountain forests. Eastwards, the rolling hills of Judea and Samaria reflect a somewhat dry climate, green in the winter and brown in the summer but attractive in any case.
Traveling southwards, somewhere past Gadera, the Negev desert begins, reaching its arid peak at the Dead Sea. Yet, even here, the landscape is not uniform. The northern part does receive some rain, creating incredible but short lived fields of flowers. The horizon is broken by protruding rocks, dry steam beds and crevices. The closer to Eilat, the Southern tip of Israel, the drier and sandy the view becomes. However, at various oases, such as Ein Gedi, date palms flourish.
Of all the places I mentioned, the only real place you will find camels is in the Negev, where you can actually ride a camel, a surprisingly pleasant experience. That is why the Jerusalem camel is so absurd. On the other hand, a wooden rock hyrax, a much more common site, would be much harder to explain.