Skip to main content

Saudi textbooks remove Palestine from most maps, says Israeli study

References to Israel as an 'enemy' have also been altered in new editions of school curricula, in an apparent toning down of hostile language
Saudi students sit for their final high school exams in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on 24 May, 2015 (AFP/Amer Salem)
Saudi students sit for their final high school exams in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on 24 May, 2015 (AFP/Amer Salem)

Saudi textbooks have removed the name “Palestine” from most maps where it previously appeared, a study by an Israeli think-tank said.

The study, conducted by the NGO Impact-se, tracks changes in Saudi school textbooks over the past five years, as reflected in the 2023-24 academic year. 

It reviews 371 textbooks published between 2019 and 2024, and highlights content removed, altered or that which remained unchanged.

A social studies textbook for grade 12 defining Zionism as a racist movement was no longer taught from 2023, while another textbook still taught has removed the chapter about the Palestinian cause, the study revealed.

According to the study, the social studies textbooks for grades five and nine consistently don't name Palestine or Israel on maps, which is an omission from the 2022 versions which only named Palestine on the map. 

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


“Most maps removed the names of all countries not bordering Saudi Arabia, including Palestine, and in some cases all country names were removed,” the report said.

Likewise, two maps in a geography textbook for grades 10-12, which previously named Palestine, now do not display the names of any country bordering Saudi Arabia. The same omission took place in social studies textbooks for grades six and seven.

Islamic studies and geography textbooks for grades 10-12 also removed maps that previously displayed historic Palestine instead of Israel. 

A reference to Israel as “the Zionist entity” in the 2021 social studies textbook for grades 10-12 was removed in the 2022 edition, and the entire textbook that included a lesson on Arab and Saudi support for the Palestinian cause was discontinued in 2023.

Less hostile tone

The report also documented some alterations in textbooks that now refer to Israel in a less hostile tone.

For example, the 2022 version of a high school social studies textbook replaced references to Israel as “the Zionist enemy” with “the Israeli occupation army”. The same textbook edited “the Israeli enemy” to “the Israeli occupation”, and “the Zionists” to “the Israelis”, or “the Israeli occupation army".

Saudi Arabia has not formally recognised Israel since its creation in 1948, but there has been persistent speculation that the kingdom would normalise relations with the state as its Gulf neighbours Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have in recent years.

These rumours, however, were disrupted following the 7 October Hamas-led attack on Israel and the subsequent Israeli war on Gaza that has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia has been a strong opponent and critic of Israel’s onslaught.

The Saudi foreign ministry said in February that no normalisation would take place without a ceasefire and progress toward Palestinian statehood.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.