Another voice from the Vatican concerning the Palestinians


Archbishop Pietro Sambi, who served as the Vatican ambassador and Papal Nuncio in Jerusalem from 1998 until 2006, died four years ago.

In the wake of current developments between the Holy See and the Palestinian Authority, it would be instructive to review the writings of Archbishop Pietro Sambi, of blessed memory. His advice to the Church concerning the reality of the Palestinian Authority, especially PA education, should be studied.

Had Archbishop Sambi, still been alive today, he would have expressed another view of the current pope’s blessing of Machmud Abbas that he might be an “angel of peace.”

I knew the Archbishop, because he opened his office at the Mount of Olives to dialogue. Jack Padwa, who also died four years ago, who served as the honorary head of the ADL in Israel, introduced me to the Archbishop.

We held years of productive dialogue, meeting every few weeks, in an informal manner, in his chambers.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi was open to reviewing information that came to his attention and was not afraid to take a stand, which made him enemies in some circles.

In August 2000, our agency purchased 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.

Archbishop Sambi asked to see the new PA school books. In his words, “the pope wants to see them.” The Papal Nuncio remarked that ever since Pope John Paul’s visit to the Palestinian Authority in March 2000, he had wanted to see what the Palestinian children were learning. What concerned the pope were the cries of virulent hatred of Jews that he heard when he visited an UNRWA school in Deheshe, near Bethlehem. The Papal Nuncio said that Pope John Paul II was concerned about anti-Semitic hatred in the nascent PA schools, especially since the pope had served as a cleric in Poland during the Nazi conquest in the 1940s and knew the consequences of anti-Semtic education.

Archbishop Sambi, who knew Arabic, reviewed the new PA books, and determined that that this curriculum was a “new tool of indoctrination against the Jews.” He pointed to lessons where Palestinian children learned about taking up arms against the Jews, and new books where children learned to revere those who murder Jews.

Archbishop Sambi brought the new Palestinian school books with him to Rome, and initiated a study of the PA textbooks. The Vatican commissioned a study of the new Palestinian school books and determined that they were anti-Semitic and pro-war in nature. At the recommendation of the Vatican, the Italian government pulled its money out of the Palestinian Ministry of Education’s PA textbook project.

This was not the only time that Archbishop Sambi challenged the PA.

Throughout his term in office, Archbishop Sambi gave continuing lectures in which he spoke out against official anti-Semitism from the PA media and PA mosques, and expressed his displeasure with Arafat and then with Abbas.

In 2003, when Archbishop Sambi addressed an American congressional delegation, which he excoriated for U.S. AID funding a proposed Palestinian State constitution, which the archbishop said would “create a Sharia law system modeled on Saudi Arabia which would deny juridical status to any religion except for Islam, Palestine,” which he viewed as an “outrage.”

Archbishop Sambi also made his voice heard to help save the lives of Palestinian dissidents who were sentenced to death because they dared to criticize Arafat and Abbas.

However, it is vital to mention that the Papal Nuncio would often emphasize that Islam should not be understood in a monolithic manner.

He related that when he was posted in South Asia, as Papal Nuncio in Indonesia and in Bangladesh, that he observed that the Sharia Law practiced in those nations respected other religions, and that both Morocco and Tunisia had adopted forms of Sharia law that also recognized the legal status of other religions.

Archbishop Sambi always said that his problem was with the Wahabi form of Sharia law, as practiced in Saudi Arabia and as practiced in the nascent Palestinian Authority.

In terms of Saudi-Vatican relations, Archbishop Sambi was not optimistic. He described negotiations between the Saudis and the Vatican which were supposed to conclude with the construction of a major church in Saudi Arabia, and a major mosque in Rome. With a twinkle in his eye, the archbishop discussed the actual result of these negotiations. The mosque in Rome was constructed. The church in Saudi Arabia was never built.


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