Samuel Pallache: The Great Jewish Pirate Who Took on the Spanish Fleet

March 19 2018

Born in Morocco in 1550 to Jewish refugees from Spain, Samuel Pallache, after completing his rabbinic training, embarked on an alternative career as a sailor—but soon he and his brother found they could better enrich themselves as pirates. Pallache’s activities eventually attracted the attention of the Moroccan sultan, who led him onto an even more improbable path, as Ushi Derman writes:

The sultan, who wished to strengthen links with Netherlands, appointed Pallache ambassador to the newly formed Dutch Republic. Apart from his prestige as a famous mariner, Pallache also spoke many languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, and French, which made him a precious diplomatic asset for the sultan.

Thus, in 1596 Pallache . . . settled in the Hague. . . . He founded one of the first informal Jewish congregations in the city, and also served as rabbi of the Jewish community. His comfortable diplomatic routine was interrupted when, at the end of the 16th century, the treasure-loving sultan ordered him to sail to Lisbon, [then part of Spain], and purchase gems in exchange for loads of wax. . . . Pallache, who was in financial trouble, offered to sell the Spaniards some inside information from the sultan’s court. The Inquisition’s authorities suspected that the rabbi was trying to bring converts back to Judaism, so they followed him; he managed to escape just in time.

Bankrupted and entangled, he sailed right back to Holland and upon his return used his contacts in order to meet with Maurice, the son of William the Silent, the founder and ruler of the Dutch Republic. Pallache offered Maurice a chance to cooperate with Morocco against their shared enemy—Spain. The prince . . . despised the Spanish as much as Pallache did, so he came up with a brilliant idea. As the Netherlands and Spain had signed a peace treaty, he suggested establishing a group of pirates made up of vagrants, adventurers, and sailors to harass Spanish shipping under Moroccan cover. Pallache, who hated the Spaniards for deporting his ancestors, was eager for a chance to get even.

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More about: History & Ideas, Morocco, Netherlands, Piracy, Sephardim, Spanish Inquisition

The U.S. Should Recognize Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan Heights

July 19 2018

Since the 1970s, American governments have sporadically pressured Jerusalem to negotiate the return of the Golan to Syria in exchange for peace. Had Israel given up this territory, Iranian forces would now be preparing to establish themselves on its strategically advantageous high ground. Michael Doran, testifying before the House of Representatives, argues that for this and other reasons, Congress should recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. (Video is available at the link below.)

Between 1949 and 1967, [the period during which Syria held the Golan], thousands of clashes erupted [there]. By contrast, ever since Israel took control of the Golan Heights in June 1967, they have served as a natural buffer between the two belligerents. The last 70 years serve as a laboratory of real life, and the results [of the experiment conducted therein] are incontrovertible: when in the hands of Syria, the Golan Heights promoted conflict. When in the hands of Israel, they have promoted stability. . . .

From the outbreak of the [Syrian] civil war, Iran and Russia have worked aggressively to shape the conflict so as to serve their interests. The influence of Iran is particularly worrisome because, in the division of labor between Moscow and Tehran, Russia provides the air power while Iran provides much of the ground forces. . . . Thanks to Iran’s newfound ground presence [in Syria], it is well on the way to completing a so-called “land bridge” stretching from Tehran to Beirut. There can be no doubt that a major aim of the land bridge is to increase the military pressure on Israel (and Jordan, too). . . .

Would Americans ever consciously choose to place Iranian soldiers on the Golan Heights, so that they could peer down their riflescopes at Jewish civilians below? Is there any American interest that would be served by allowing Iran to have direct access to the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s primary water reservoir? Would it ever be wise to place Iranian troops [where they could] serve as a wedge between Jordan and Israel? The answer to all of these questions, obviously, is no. And the clearest way to send that message to the world is to pass a law recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

As for the claim that the Jewish state’s seizure of the Golan in 1967 violates international law, Doran notes that Washington undermined this claim with its attempts in the 1990s to broker a deal between Jerusalem and Damascus:

The ready American (and Israeli) acceptance of the June 4, 1967 cease-fire line [as the basis for such a deal] is nothing short of startling. That line . . . leaves Syria in possession of territory along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and elsewhere that it acquired by force in 1948. In other words, to win over its enemy, [Syria], the Clinton administration dispensed with the principle of the impermissibility of the acquisition of territory by force—the very principle that the United States has remained ever-vigilant in applying to its ally, Israel.

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More about: Congress, Golan Heights, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy