State prosecutors decided on Monday that they would formally charge rancher Shai Dromi with manslaughter and not murder. The decision came 10 days after the northern Negev ranch owner fired on a group of alleged robbers who he believed were about to steal from his ranch, killing one of them.
Following Monday's sudden decision, Judge Verdah Maroz ordered Dromi be released to house arrest until the next hearing in the case on February 11.
The about face by prosecutors came a day after they petitioned the Beersheba District Court to keep Dromi in custody, after Maroz had initially ordered him to be released to house arrest. Dromi was kept in jail to address the petition, which would have automatically resulted in a mandatory five-day remand extension to give prosecutors time to write up the formal charge sheet and present it to the court.
However, minutes before they were to formally file the motion, prosecutors said they would opt for a manslaughter charge instead, a move that was applauded outside the courthouse by a small group of Dromi supporters made up of fellow farm owners and representatives of the Livestock Breeders Association, Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council and the Israeli Ranchers Association, who have all rallied to his defense.
They have gathered outside the court during hearings since Dromi was arrested the night of the shooting and have maintained Dromi acted justifiably by personally defending his property as a last resort when police proved incapable, or as some have argued, unwilling, to do so.
The manslaughter indictment itself addressed the farmers' complaints: "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 faced by farmers in the Negev - but only with the circumstances of this specific case," it read.
On Sunday, five Knesset members from the United Torah Judaism Party toured Dromi's ranch in the Yatir Forest near Meitar. They voiced their support for lesser charges against Dromi, saying that the rampant agricultural thefts committed by local Beduin was an extenuating factor to be considered when determining Dromi's culpability.
Meanwhile, Arab MKS, including Ahmed Tibi, have complained that the justice system would be shown as racist if Dromi were not charged with murder, and they were offended that he had been portrayed a hero by the farming community. Khaled al-Atrash, 31, was killed, and a second Beduin man was seriously wounded in the shooting.