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 Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey