(photo credit: Channel 1)
The Knesset Law Committee on Wednesday approved for final reading an amendment to the Penal Law aimed at giving property owners more freedom to use drastic measures against intruders who break into their homes, businesses or farms.
The bill will now go to the plenum for final approval.
The legislation is known as the "Shai Dromi Bill" after the Negev farmer who on January 13, 2007 opened fire at Beduins who broke into his farm to steal sheep, and killed one of them, Khaled el-Atrash. Dromi was arrested and charged with manslaughter.
The criminal charges against him caused an uproar among farmers, who have suffered heavy losses from theft over the years, and others who felt that Dromi had the right to use firearms to protect his property.
Within a few weeks, several MKs filed private member's bills to prevent people in Dromi's situation from being charged with crimes in the future.
According to the final draft approved on Wednesday, "no person shall bear criminal responsibility for an act that was immediately necessary in order to repel someone who breaks into or enters a home, business or fenced-off farm belonging to him or another person, with the intent of committing a crime, or someone who attempts to break into or enter the above." It defines a farm as including not only the home and courtyard, but also pasture land and the area where farm vehicles and equipment are stored.
However, the amendment adds that "the provision will not apply if the act [perpetrated by the property owners] was manifestly unreasonable under the circumstances in order to repel the intruder or enterer."
The bill was highly controversial, with opponents claiming that it gave property owners license to kill. The committee approved the draft by a vote of six to four.
One of its supporters, MK David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) charged that the robbery phenomenon was tantamount to "terrorism. We must fight it not only using both hands, but also with the hands holding a machine gun. No one can enter my house without my permission."
However, MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor) warned that the law
"grants immunity to a person who has committed a crime. It gives permission to kill."
Unlike the current restriction on criminal liability in the case of self-defense, according to the "Dromi law," the property owner would not have to face "a real danger to his own or another person's life, freedom, bodily welfare or property" to justify shooting. It would be enough that someone broke into his home, business or farm for him to be relieved of criminal responsibility for his action.
Furthermore, the property owner would not have to act reasonably to be relieved of criminal responsibility. Such a reprieve would only be denied if the owner acted in a "manifestly unreasonable" manner, a much looser restriction.
The version of the bill endorsed on Wednesday was recently approved by the Ministerial Law Committee after the Knesset Law Committee failed to bridge the gap between the MKs' more draconian proposals and a more moderate proposal submitted by the Justice Ministry in the name of the government. The Ministerial Law Committee overrode the reservations of the ministry and approved a bill that was much closer to what the majority of the MKs wanted.