by Elise Coop­er

Jew­ish Book Coun­cil recent­ly spoke with Liad Shoham about his new book, Asy­lum City.

Elise Coop­er: I didn’t know Israel has an ille­gal immi­gra­tion prob­lem. Did you write the book to inform readers?

Liad Shoham: I described some­thing hap­pen­ing in Israel, but ille­gal immi­gra­tion is a glob­al prob­lem. These peo­ple are need­ed by the econ­o­my but many times are unwel­come. They also can pose a threat to the iden­ti­ty of the nation they enter. I wrote specif­i­cal­ly about what was hap­pen­ing in Israel, but it has inter­na­tion­al implications.

EC: Can you explain why Ethiopi­ans are allowed to stay but not Eritreans?

LS: The basic law of Israel states that every Jew in the world who comes here is enti­tled to auto­mat­ic cit­i­zen­ship. Ethiopi­an Jews were grant­ed cit­i­zen­ship after com­ing here sim­ply because they were Jew­ish. Eritre­ans are not Jews, but Chris­tians, so when they come here they are con­sid­ered ille­gal immigrants.

EC: Please explain why Israel does not just deport the Eritreans.

LS: I write about it in the book. Eritrea has a very harsh regime. Any­one per­se­cut­ed in their coun­try, as in this case, will not be deport­ed. It goes back to why Israel was estab­lished in the first place, that not many coun­tries would pro­tect the Jews from the Nazis dur­ing World War II. Because the Eritre­an regime is total­i­tar­i­an, Israel’s pol­i­cy is that they will nev­er be deported. 

EC: Were they grant­ed visas?

LS: No. Most non-Jews who want to come to Israel are grant­ed visas and allowed to stay a few months. How­ev­er, the Eritre­ans have come to Israel ille­gal­ly by cross­ing our bor­der from the Sinai Penin­su­la. It is a very com­pli­cat­ed situation.

EC: It was inter­est­ing how you explore all the dif­fer­ent sides of this prob­lem through the mur­der mys­tery. Please explain.

LS: I had Gabriel, one of the asy­lum seek­ers, con­fess to a mur­der to res­cue his sis­ter. I want­ed to explore all the dif­fer­ent angles and give it a panoram­ic view. Many Israelis are sym­pa­thet­ic to them but real­is­ti­cal­ly under­stand that Israel is not able to sup­port them finan­cial­ly. A few think they should be giv­en full rights and cit­i­zen­ship. Anoth­er view­point is to deport them back imme­di­ate­ly. But the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty feels they should not be deport­ed and they should be giv­en min­i­mum basic rights while at the same time mak­ing sure the bor­der is secure with the build­ing of a wall. I includ­ed these opin­ions while pre­sent­ing the peo­ple of inter­est’ in the mur­der mystery.

EC: You show us through a character’s eyes how the asy­lum seek­ers are treat­ed. Please explain.

LS: First, let me state that the col­or of their skin is irrel­e­vant. Israel has accept­ed Jews from all over the world: Ethiopi­an, Chi­nese, His­pan­ic, East­ern Euro­pean, and West­ern Euro­pean, but the under­ly­ing thread is that they are all Jews. The gov­ern­ment does not exploit [the asy­lum seek­ers], but also does not grant them any oppor­tu­ni­ties. The prob­lem is those who try to exploit them, exem­pli­fied by the quote in my book, I’ll nev­er get how peo­ple who grew up in this coun­try can exploit oth­er refugees.” Because of this and to pre­vent an increase in crime, the police told the gov­ern­ment that asy­lum seek­ers should be allowed to work. Cur­rent­ly our gov­ern­ment is turn­ing a blind eye, real­iz­ing the jobs they are tak­ing are ones Israelis don’t want — the menial jobs of wash­ing dish­es, clean­ing streets, and pick­ing fruits.

EC: How are they exploited?

LS: The Bedouins who are hired to move them across the desert have kid­napped them for sex traf­fick­ing, held them hostage for ran­soms, tor­tured the men, and raped many of the women. Israel is unable to con­trol the crimes, because they take place out­side our bor­der. With­in Israel there are those who have set up busi­ness­es sur­round­ing the asy­lum seek­ers’ needs. For exam­ple, just as in the book, since they are not allowed to open bank accounts, Mafia boss­es have become their bankers, trans­fer­ring mon­ey to the asy­lum seek­ers’ families.

EC: Why do you call them asy­lum seekers”?

LS: That is the legal term. They are not refugees because they will not be grant­ed the rights of cit­i­zen­ship, with free edu­ca­tion and health ser­vices. Nor are they ille­gal immi­grants because we can­not deport them as we could if some­one crossed the bor­der ille­gal­ly who was from France, for exam­ple. Israel nev­er deports any group that is per­se­cut­ed. I believe Men­achem Begin best sum­ma­rized the inten­tion, para­phras­ing: Israel can­not stand by when peo­ple are being per­se­cut­ed and are not accept­ed by any oth­er country.’

EC: What do you want your read­ers to get out of the book?

LS: A good enter­tain­ing crime nov­el. Beyond that, under­stand­ing that Israel is unable to open its arms finan­cial­ly to all immi­grants. We can­not grant cit­i­zen­ship because we need to pre­serve the Jew­ish iden­ti­ty of Israel. After all, Israel is a Jew­ish state. 99% of Israelis agree and feel Israel has the right to keep its bor­ders and pre­vent per­ma­nent sta­tus to peo­ple who want to stay here. The ques­tion aris­es, what will hap­pen to those already here, approx­i­mate­ly 70,000 out of a total Israeli pop­u­la­tion of 8 mil­lion? When I start­ed research­ing the book I thought a lot of Israelis would tell me secur­ing our Sinai bor­der, and pre­vent­ing peo­ple from com­ing here is unac­cept­able.” One of my sur­pris­es is that nobody claimed it. Every­one believes Israel is not the solu­tion for Africa and since they came here ille­gal­ly they should not be made citizens. 

EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?

LS: It will be called Blood Oranges and deals with cor­rup­tion in munic­i­pal­i­ties. Anat will be a char­ac­ter in the book. She moves to a small city about twen­ty miles out­side Tel Aviv where she finds her­self inves­ti­gat­ing the death of a journalist. 

Elise Coop­er lives in Los Ange­les and has writ­ten numer­ous nation­al secu­ri­ty arti­cles sup­port­ing Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A’s for many dif­fer­ent out­lets includ­ing the Mil­i­tary Press. She has had the plea­sure to inter­view best­selling authors from many dif­fer­ent genres.

Relat­ed Content:

Elise Coop­er lives in Los Ange­les and has writ­ten numer­ous nation­al secu­ri­ty arti­cles sup­port­ing Israel. She writes book reviews and Q and A’s for many dif­fer­ent out­lets includ­ing the Mil­i­tary Press. She has had the plea­sure to inter­view best­selling authors from many dif­fer­ent genres.