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The King and I: Eyewitness to History

By Alfred M. Lilienthal In December a group of leaders from the American Jewish Committee traveled to Riyadh to see King Fahd. Their visit was to express their concern lest new surveillance satellite photos purchased by a Saudi Arabian company be used for military purposes against Israel. The King assured them the information would be used only for commercial purposes.

The leadership boasted of its accomplishment, and were portrayed by the U.S. media as the first Jews ever to be received in the Saudi Kingdom by a reigning monarch.

Like so much of the propaganda emanating from Zionist sources, this was pure myth-information. Thirty-nine years earlier, in 1955, I had visited Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia as the guest of His Majesty King Saud and was subsequently received over the years by his successors and brothers, Kings Faisal, Khalid, and Fahd. I have no idea of how many hundreds, or thousands, of American Jews have visited Saudi Arabia since then. Each press entourage that accompanied U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on his many visits to the Kingdom contained Jewish journalists, none of whom encountered problems or we would have read about them in their reports. My own first visit was in 1955, a year after my book What Price Israel? had been published in the United

States and had become a solid hit. It was then translated into Arabic in Beirut as Themen Israel?and went into seven printings. By the time I arrived in the Lebanese capital on my second visit to that country, I recall that my arrival was trumpeted on the front pages, and I was received as a conquering hero. Arab officials and media pundits vied in honoring the one U.S. writer who had effectively defied the Zionist movement.

A grand reception was tendered me at the American University of Beirut Alumni Club, where 200 people

turned out as guests of the minister of information. It was a beautiful affair, and my first visit to the famed educational institution where I was to lecture later. The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon was present, and in congratulating me he said, "We should bring you to the Kingdom." Though the Arabic version of the book had been successful, I had received not a penny in royalties. The translation had been pirated. At an embassy reception, I accosted the two young publishers and said to them:

"Don't you agree that I deserve a few Lebanese pounds for the 10,000 copies you have sold?" Their quick answer: "We pay you? We made you popular. You ought to pay us." They were right, at least, about the popularity. I had understood from those who had already arranged visits for me to Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq that a visa for Saudi Arabia would be impossible to obtain because I was a Jew. But now my popularity had extended to Saudi Arabia and in the spring of 1955 I was invited to come to

the Kingdom. I was met at the airport by the military aide to His Majesty King Saud Ibn Abdul Aziz, and by my sponsor, Minister of Information Abdullah Bulkhair, who had persuaded King Saud of the wisdom of my visit.

From the airport I was taken in an official car, with flags flying, to the Al-Yamama Hotel, where I had a beautiful suite, rested and then was brought to Nassariya Palace. I arrived there shortly before prayer time and was seated in an anteroom through whose open door I could look into the room where the King and his court were at prayer. When the King's prayers were completed, I was introduced to him. As we shook hands, he said, " Ahlan wa Sahlan [welcome], Dr. Lilienthal." Then we proceeded to the dining room, followed by his ministers and some

of his sons. This dinner with the son and first heir to the founder of the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,

Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud Ibn Abdul Rahman Al Saud, was one I shall always remember. Standing behind each of

us was a servant. If you momentarily turned away from your plate for conversation with your neighbor—bingo! It was gone.

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The King and I: Eyewitness to History

A Rapid Repast

Everything had to be done speedily. His Majesty was on a special diet and ate very lightly—mostly yogurt as I remember—and quickly. Everyone else also ate quickly because, as I discovered shortly, when the King finished, dinner was over. Everyone stood up and left the table. Throughout this 22-minute

five-course dinner an officer stood to the left of the King and read the news to his sovereign in Arabic. The cutlery and china were magnificent. Indeed it was a table fit for a king, even the ruler of the land with the largest oil reserves of any nation in the world.

I savored every brief moment of this dinner. It included wonderful chicken and lamb kabobs and an array of desserts, including baklava, to suit my sweet tooth.

It was only after that memorable evening that the information minister, who by that time had become my

friend Abdullah, told me that receiving Lilienthal, a Jew, had also become a memorable event in the Kingdom. When it was announced on the radio (before the days of television in Saudi Arabia) that the King was hosting

a Jewish writer, there was a first-class brouhaha. The ulama, the kingdom's religious leaders, were vocal in

their outrage. How dare the King receive a Jew, these zealots asked, so long as much of Palestine and the Holy City of Jerusalem were in the hands of Jewish Israeli usurpers? In fact, according to Information Minister Bulkhair (who may have indulged in some poetic exaggeration), I was the first Jew formally received by a ruler in Saudi Arabia in the more than 13 centuries since two Jewish tribes had sided with pagan opponents of the Prophet Muhammad and subsequently had been banished from Arabia.

I met again with King Saud the next day and we talked together for half an hour, with Abdullah Bulkhair

capably translating. The King was particularly curious to know about the U.S. attitude on the Palestine question and inquired whether I thought Palestine would ever be freed of the foreign occupation. The friendly conversation took place in a small, ornate reception room. Little did I dream that Abdullah had placed a microphone under the table in front of us, taping our entire, historic conversation. Some 18 months later, when King Saud made his first state visit abroad to India as a guest of Prime Minister Nehru, the Saudi government published a special book in English explaining the history, policies, religion, and traditions of the country for distribution to Indian media and officials. This 40-page book contained a section covering King Saud's "views on Palestine, as told in an interview with the famed American writer, Dr. Alfred Lilienthal, author of What Price Israel?"There was our entire conversation, exactly as it had taken place in Riyadh during my 1955 meeting with His Majesty. At a second dinner, King Saud presented me with an ornate box. Opening it, I found an unusually beautiful Mido watch with a heavy gold strap, in the center of which was a striking picture in green and red of His

Majesty wearing his Saudi keffiyeh (headdress) and robes. Thirty-nine years later this watch still keeps time accurately.

In the course of the meal, the King handed me the eye of a sheep, a favor accorded guests of honor. I had been

warned beforehand that this might happen and was prepared to gulp it down like an oyster, hoping that as I did, I could maintain eye contact with my host while avoiding eye-to-eye contact with the object he was extending to me. All went well.

I remained five days in Riyadh on that first visit. There was not much to do or see then except to promenade on the main street, King Abdul Aziz Street, with one large building after another in varied stages of construction.

At the request of the King, founder of the Arab League Abdulrahman Azzam Pasha entertained me at his home with a dinner in typical Arab fashion. We sat on the ground, and the food was laid out in front of us. We kneeled and picked it up with our fingers, eating without Western implements. Great fun! On my wall at home is a memorable picture of this al fresco dinner. Among those in attendance was Sheikh Yussif Yassin, who took me out to his small boat for coffee. He was one of those distinguished Arabs who had fought alongside Lawrence of Arabia against the Turks.

I had barely returned to my home in New York from this first trip to Saudi Arabia when King Saud arrived

aboard the Queen Maryon his initial visit as a reigning monarch to the United States. He was so angered by a

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The King and I: Eyewitness to History

personal attack, made even before he arrived, by New York Mayor Robert Wagner Jr. that the Saudi monarch expressed his desire not to land in New York harbor, but to fly directly to Washington, where he was due to meet President Eisenhower at the White House. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and the King and his entourage boarded a tender which brought them from the ship to Battery Park, where a majlis had been set up to receive guests. Here His Majesty received the official welcome from Henry Cabot Lodge, then the U.S. representative to the United Nations, and greeted 200 U.N. diplomats and other dignitaries. I was present as a welcomer, and afterward Aramco Vice President Terry Duce offered me a ride back uptown. We had just settled into our accelerating car as part of a long cavalcade bound for the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, when everything abruptly came to a halt—one could hear the screeching of tires. From the King's lead car his military aide (the same one who had earlier welcomed me to Saudi Arabia) jumped out and headed toward the tender tied to the dock. There a Saudi servant handed over to him little Prince Mashur (whom the King had brought with him for medical treatment of lameness resulting from an attack of polio, then a scourge in the U.S. as well as in Saudi Arabia). Every one of the multitude of cameramen present took a picture of the little boy being warmly hugged by the military attaché. Every newspaper in the world prominently printed this shot. The quite accidental photo of the little lame son of Saud captured the American public's fancy. Until then, following Mayor Wagner's politically inspired attack, the press had been calling the King an "anti-Semite," "a slave owner," and an "oil merchant of death," with all the venom the Zionist-controlled media could generate. But the appearance of the King's lame son changed everything. For the rest of his visit, King Saud was referred to as the loving father of the appealing child with big brown eyes who had come to visit American doctors to "improve his walking." Some newspapers credited the Aramco people hosting the King in the U.S. with a public relations coup in bringing about this new Saudi image. Nonsense! The media's sudden "discovery" of the little prince in the glare of auto headlights was the purest of accidents. No Hill and Knowlton trick had brought about this happy ending to the first visit of a Saudi monarch to America, the most unpredictable country in what must have seemed to Saudis of the time as the mysterious, inscrutable West. Alfred M. Lilienthal is the author of What Price Israel?, The Other Side of the Coin and The Zionist Connection.

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