- On September 14, 2011, a memorial service was held for Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Pope’s ambassador to the United States and formerly the Papal Nuncio in Jerusalem. He died very recently.
I knew this man. During his tenure in Jerusalem, from 1998 until 2005, the Papal Nuncio proved a remarkable sensitivity to anti Semitism which transcended that of many Jewish organizations or the government of Israel.
Archbishop Pietro Sambi was open to reviewing information that came to his attention and was not afraid to take a stand which may make him enemies in some circles.
During the summer of 2000, our news agency purchased five sets of the new Palestinian Authority school books from the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education.
This was the first time that the PA issued their own school books. the content of the books would indicate their disposition towards peace and reconciliation with Israel.
When Arabic speaking colleagues took a first glance at the books, they were shocked to see that the books represented a new tool of indoctrination for war against Israel. The translations of the books are now posted at www.
I brought a set of the books to the Dr. Shlomo Ben Ami, then the Israel Minister of Foreign Affairs and showed him the books, where he could see that the new maps produced by the nascent Palestinian Authority deleted Israel for every PA school child to see that only Palestine existed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In those textbooks, there were lessons where Palestinian children learned about the armed struggle to liberate all of Palestine. Palestinian children learned about Zionism as a war crime, and specific lessons instructed Palestinian children to revere those who murdered Jews.
Ben Ami shrugged his shoulders when he looked at the new PA school books.
It was if he was looking at the Manhattan telephone book.
As I left the minister’s his office, Archbishop Pietro Sambi called me on my cell phone with a request: Could I bring the PA school books to him immediately. – “the Pope wants to see them”. The honorary chairman of the ADL in Israel, Mr. Jack Padwa, had informed the Archbishop that our agency had purchased these books.
Having never received a Papal request on my cell phone before, I took a taxi to the Archbishop’s office on the Mount of Olives and delivered the books to the Archbishop – the set that the Israel Minister of Foreign Affairs did not want to look at.
Archbishop Sambi brought the books with him to Rome, and initiated a study of the PA textbooks, which the Vatican determined to be anti-semitic and pro-war in nature. At the recommendation of Archbishop Sambi, the Italian government pulled its money out of the Palestinian Ministry of Education’s PA text book project.
Archbishop Sambi later told me with his wry sense of humor that before calling my cell phone, he had called my home and my office where my children and my secretary thought that this was a prank, and that I could not possibly have been receiving a personal call from the Vatican’s ambassador.
This was not the only time that Archbishop Sambi stuck his neck out to attack PA anti-Semitism.
Our agency covered a talk given by the Vatican ambassador for an American congressional delegation, during which he excoriated the US officials for US AID funding of the Palestinian State constitution, which the Archbishop described as creating a Sharia law system modeled on Saudi Arabia which would deny juridical status to Judaism, anywhere in Palestine, which he viewed as an “outrage”. The status of Christianity is not much better in their new constitution, according to the Archbishop. And over the past few years, the Archbishop has let his voice be heard concerning the persecution of Christians in the PA.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Sambi was the first and only member of the diplomatic corps to object to the death sentence meted out by the Palestinian Authority to dissidents, as if they were “collaborators”.
Meanwhile, throughout his term in office, Archbishop Sambi often asked to be briefed concerning reports of official anti-semitism from the PA media, and from the PA mosques, and expressed his displeasure of such with Arafat and then with Abbas.
And when the PA spokespeople announced in August, 2005, that they would burn the synagogues in Gush Katif, Archbishop Sambi personally intervened.
After all, Archbishop Sambi noted, if the Moslem authorities had guarded the ancient synagogue in the center of Gaza from desecration, why could they not do so again with the Jewish holy sites that would now be abandoned. However, the voice of the archbishop was not was not heeded to – not even by Jews who should have heeded his warnings that the Palestinian Authority was intent on establishing a warlike, anti-semitic state.