Self-Defense Shooting Rancher Accused of Manslaughter

The rancher Shai Dromi, who shot to death one of many Bedouin burglars who broke into his ranch, was to be released to house arrest last night - but the State has now accused him of manslaughter.

Hillel Fendel, | updated: 12:44

The case of Dromi has aroused national interest because of the plague of Bedouin thefts, vandalism and illegal squatting on Negev lands. Farmers in the Negev say that the police have been singularly ineffectual in restraining Bedouin crime in the area.

Dromi, 47, the owner of a small Negev farm just south of the southern border of Judea and the Hevron area, slept Friday night in his barn, fearing another robbery - following the theft of his horse and tractor, and the killing of several dogs in the past few months. He awoke around 3 AM when he saw that his dog had been poisoned and was dying. He then noticed four burglars on his property. Fearing for his life, he later explained, he took an old gun of his father's and shot at the intruders' legs. One of the Bedouin bled to death, even though Shai said he tried to administer first-aid, and another was seriously wounded.

Dromi was arrested shortly afterwards, charged with murder, misuse of a weapon and shooting in a built-up area. The murder charge was later downgraded to manslaughter, and Dromi was to be released to house arrest yesterday. The police, however, say they have secret information regarding the case, as well as sufficient evidence with which to indict him. The State Prosecution charged him today with manslaughter, and asked that he be remanded until the end of proceedings against him.

The indictment states, "It is emphasized that the State Prosecution is not dealing with the obligations of the police regarding law enforcement in the area, nor with the [predicament] of the farmers in the Negev - but only with the circumstances of this specific case."

Farmers from all around the country, as well as Knesset Members, have shown their support for Dromi in various ways. On Friday, many ranchers demonstrated outside the Be'er Sheva courthouse. “Shai Dromi is being accused of murder in what is a classic case of self-defense,” Israeli Ranchers Association head Moshe Har-Shemesh told IsraelNationalTV. “In any other place in the world he would be treated as a hero and not a criminal.”

Har-Shemesh himself was a victim to Bedouin violence: “Three Arabs came and pulled me out of my house, beat me unconscious, putting me in the hospital and stealing my flock. This is something that has happened to many of the people here today... They are left on their own with no help and nobody to protect them. The government is unable or unwilling to deal with the thefts and the damages and the attacks." Others said that the police are unwilling or unable to pursue the Bedouin vandals and thieves.

The ranchers have begun a campaign to raise money for the defense of Dromi. A booth will be open at today's annual breeding-cow auction in the Jezreel Valley.

The campaign on behalf of Dromi is being organized by the Livestock Breeders Association, together with the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council and the Israeli Ranchers Association.

In addition, several MKs intend to propose legislation that will exempt those who fire in self-defense or to protect their property. Five MKs of the Yisrael Beiteinu party propose that a citizen who takes action against someone who breaks into his property not be held responsible for the results. They want the legislation to apply retroactively to the Dromi case.

Shmulik Rifman, Chairman of both the Regional Council Associations and the Negev Development Authority, wrote last week to Public Security Minister Avi Dichter of the "intolerable situation of agricultural thefts and harm to the agricultural infrastructures." In the name of "all the country's farmers," Rifman wrote, "we protest the powerlessness of the security elements who leave the farmers' lives and property unprotected. We demand that an appropriate solution be found."

Rifman also called upon the police to withdraw from their involvement in the Dromi case, because of the "over-zealousness of the police to convict Dromi of murder in order to cover up for their own failures in suppressing crime." A police force that does not succeed in protecting its citizens, he said, "to the point that they are forced to protect themselves, is itself a blow to the rule of law."