Shai Dromi, a Negev farmer who shot and killed a Bedouin thief in January 2007, has been acquitted of manslaughter charges.

The ruling was handed down Wednesday morning in the Be’er Sheva District Court by a majority vote. He was convicted, however, on charges of illegal possession of weapons.

Dromi owns a small farm in the Negev outside Meitar, northeast of Be'er Sheva and just south of the southern border of Judea and the Hevron area. The area is constantly plagued by Bedouin thieves, with long-standing complaints by residents about police helplessness. Dromi shot at thieves in the middle of the night after seeing that his dog had been poisoned and was dying in front of his eyes, wounding two men; one of them bled to death, though Dromi said he tried to administer first-aid.

The case attracted national attention, and even led to the passage of a bill known as the Dromi Law, proposed the day Dromi was arrested by then-MK Yisrael Katz, who is now Transportation Minister. The law states that all opposition by a person to one who breaks into his home or property is considered self-defense. Katz, a former Agriculture Minister, lives in the agricultural Moshav Kfar Achim, near Kiryat Malachi, an area that has also been plagued by Bedouin thievery.

At his trial, Dromi, who had had a horse and tractor stolen and several dogs killed in the few months prior to the incident, testified as follows: “I awoke at 3 AM to the barking of the guard dog that I acquired after my dogs were poisoned. Even though I was incredibly tired, I got out of bed and walked around the house. After I went back to bed, I again heard the dog barking irregularly. I went out with my weapon and didn’t see anything. I kept walking around [the perimeter of my] sheep pen, and noticed large metal wire-cutters. I panicked. I realized there were men around me.”

Noting that he was so frightened that his bladder failed him, he continued, “I heard a crash from the direction of the sheep pen. I saw four men in front of me all of a sudden. I called out to them and tried to shoot in the air, but my gun did not fire. They yelled something at me, I didn’t understand what. I felt them closing in on me. I tried to see what was wrong with my weapon and then the bullet fired… One of the four was holding a large knife or pruning shears over his head. After the first shot, I fired five more shots at the lower parts of their bodies. My life was in danger and I shot in order to chase them away.”

Dromi was kept in prison for a month immediately following the incident, and was prevented from returning to his farm for a long while afterwards.