The ‘Churchbridge’ in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. A typical small Dutch wooden bridge over the water. The ground is crackling under my feet. In the night a wafer-thin layer of ice has settled on the ground. Not hard enough to make it too slippery, just enough to let a familiar winter sound rise from the ground in this icy-cold-morning. On the Portuguese-Israelite cemetery Beth Haim, the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Netherlands, which is visible from the ‘Churchbridge’ on my right, I should find the tomb of Samuel Pallache from Fes.
His family, Spanish Jews, his father was rabbi in Cordoba, fled the Iberian peninsula towards Morocco in the sixteenth century as a result of the persecutions after the Spanish Reconquista. Just like in the Netherlands, many Sephardic Jews find a new place in Morocco, provided they recognize Islam as an official faith in Morocco.
In 1608 the then 50-year-old Samuel leaves with his brother to the exploding trade center of the world: Amsterdam. Their stay is short-lived because they are not allowed to settle in Amsterdam. Their trade with Spain, the arch enemy of the young Republic, would be the reason for this. But in Morocco they succeed in convincing Sultan Zidan Abu Maali of the chances in Amsterdam and become official envoy to the Sultan in the Dutch Republic.
As an official envoy, Samuel co-signed the first trade agreement between Morocco and the Netherlands on 24 December 1610, allowing free trade between the two countries.
Samuel Pallache way of conduct is not entirely without risk and is also characterized by opportunism. In this way he becomes bankrupt, he gets involved in double play with Spain and the Dutch Republic as envoy and he is active as a hijacker, armed with a hijacker’s private license of the Sultan and warships from the Dutch government. In 1614 he hijacks a Portuguese ship but before he can bring it into a safe harbor, a storm drives him towards the English coast. He is arrested and imprisoned at the request of the Spanish ambassador. Prince Maurits comes to his aid and completely destitute he returns to the Netherlands. Shortly afterwards he gets ill and on the 4th of February 1616 he dies in The Hague.
It is a life history that has lost nothing of topicality after four centuries. Refugee, looking for a place to root, struggling with own identity and loyalty, fortune hunter and displaced. There is a painting by Rembrandt, or by the hand of his pupil Govert Flinck, of which it is suspected that Samuel Pallache was portrayed on it. A dark painting with many browns in clothing and background, while the light focuses on the face. A portrait that tells the story. His eyes do not shine. They stare straight ahead, making it seem like he has looked at the painter. Not intrusively clear, more firm with a hint of naughty brutality. A little tired, I read from the bags around his eyes and the wrinkles in his face. And marked by age, but not heavy, there is still youthfulness. His head is covered with a kind of turban whose cloth has beautiful colors. But they do not stand out. It is all subtle, so that his face is even more highlighted. That bold and brutal returns in an anecdote. Samuel drives in his carriage through The Hague and from the other side that of the Spanish Ambassador meets him. The road is too narrow to pass, after which the coach of the Spanish ambassador deviates from for Samuel’s, while bystanders cheer loudly for Samuel.
I walk across the cemetery towards the tomb of Samuel Pallache. I find cemeteries places to stay. Sometimes reading on tombstones, but especially wandering through the silence, between life and death. At the foot of his grave I stop for a moment. I can see the steam coming out of my mouth, feel the cold that has crept into my fingers, listen to the crackling of the thin layer of ice beneath my feet, let the stifling environment enter, while above me in the sky a setting sun, partly hidden behind the clouds conjures up beautiful purple, pink, orange and deep blue colors. In this Icy-cold world at the banks of the Amstel, a man is buried with a life story of all times. And long ago Samuel Pallache took the first steps in what we now call the four-hundred-year history of Dutch-Moroccan relations.
Little did he know…


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