Court acquits Dromi of manslaughter

Negev farmer shot and killed burglar in 2007; MK A-Sanaa: An Arab shooter would've been convicted.

dromi shai 248.88 ch 10 (photo credit: Channel 10)
dromi shai 248.88 ch 10
(photo credit: Channel 10)
A law approved last year by the Knesset helped, on Wednesday, to save Shai Dromi, the Negev farmer who shot two Beduin thieves in the back, killing one and seriously wounding the other, from conviction on charges of manslaughter and assault in aggravated circumstances. The Beersheba District Court, however, ruled unanimously to convict the defendant of illegal possession of a weapon, the rifle he used to shoot the thieves as they were running away from the farm. The law, which came to be known as the "Dromi Amendment," because it was initiated after the incident, provides special dispensation against what would otherwise be considered criminal acts, to homeowners and owners of businesses who cause harm, and possibly kill, intruders on their property. The incident occurred on January 13, 2007, when Dromi caught four Beduin after they poisoned his guard dog, cut the wire fence and entered his courtyard with the intention of stealing his sheep. Dromi fired one shot into the ground as they approached him and then five more as the robbers ran away. One of the Beduin, Khaled Al-Atrash, was hit twice, once in the rear thigh and once in the back, and killed. The other, Ayub El-Hawashleh, was hit three times and seriously wounded. On the basis of the new law, presiding Judge Yehoshua Pilpel and Judge Rachel Barkai voted to acquit Dromi of the key charges, against the dissenting vote of Judge Ariel Vago. "I cannot say that in the circumstances of this incident, the firing of the five additional bullets by the defendant, in the flash of one-and-a-half seconds or less, was manifestly unreasonable," Barkai wrote. The shooting triggered controversy between those who believed Dromi was right in shooting the trespassers and those who thought he was a trigger-happy killer. Dromi was especially supported by farmers all over the country who have suffered for many years from theft of livestock, machinery and agricultural produce. Israeli Arabs, on the other hand, said the state habitually turn a blind eye to the killing and wounding of Arabs. The Dromi Amendment is less stringent than the existing self-defense provision and states that a person who acts against an intruder in his home or business will not be held criminally liable unless the action he takes is manifestly unreasonable. The court had to deal with the question of whether or not shooting thieves who were no longer a threat because they were running away was "manifestly unreasonable." Pilpel and Barkai said that in the given circumstances, it was not. Dromi's neighbors testified that they faced a plague of thievery from Beduin and that one farmer had been killed and another wounded in separate incidents. They also complained that the police had utterly failed to provide protection. The court also accepted Dromi's testimony that he had intended to fire in the air to scare off the thieves but that his rifle had jammed and that while he was trying to correct the problem, the thieves advanced on him. He said that when he finally managed to unjam the rifle, he shot one bullet into the ground and then lifted it and fired at the thieves. Dromi said he had fired one burst from his rifle, even though the sub-machine gun could normally fire only one bullet at a time. In an interview with Ynet, the dead man's brother, Ramadan Al-Atrash, said the court's decision was "racist. If it was a Jew who had been killed, the story would have been altogether different. "In the South, the law is different for Beduin and Jews, depending on who is the accused. If a Beduin had killed a Jew, he would have been put in prison for many years and they would have charged him with murder, not manslaughter," Atrash said. Jafar Farah, director of the Haifa-based Mossawa Center, which advocates for Arab citizens in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post the acquittal conveyed a "negative message allowing people to take the law into their own hands. "The decision will lead to further tragedies and is particularly bad for the Arab community, which the Israeli justice system does not support." According to Farah, "Twenty-nine Arab civilians were shot and killed by police officers in the past nine years, yet only two [policemen] were convicted. Both are still free and one of them continues to serve with the police." Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud), one of the sponsors of the Dromi Amendment, declined to comment on the court's ruling. Politicians reacted swiftly to the verdict. "This is a mark of Cain on Israel's legal system's forehead," MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) said. "The life of an Arab, even when shot in the back, is not equal before the law. Dromi's hands are dripping with the Negev fatality's blood. Even judges have prejudices," Tibi said in a statement. MK Hanna Sweid (Hadash) said the ruling was merely the latest in a string of biased verdicts spanning back almost a decade. "This decision proves once again the hypocrisy of the Israeli justice system, which always finds one side innocent at the expense of the other side," he said. "And the improbable decision is the continuation of a series of similar rulings that began with finding the police leadership not guilty after the October 200 riots and continued through 41 cases in which Arabs were killed by security forces and Jewish civilians." MK Taleb a-Sanaa (UAL-Ta'al) said "the court succumbed to the racist atmosphere and acquitted a murderer, thus giving a green light to a trigger-happy reality. "Today's ruling will be forever lamented," Sanaa continued, "and I have no doubt that if the shooter were an Arab, the outcome would have been different." Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh saw the decision as a potential watershed. "Up to this point, criminals took advantage of police weakness, the lack of enforcement and judges' mercy," she said in a statement. "This morning, the court had its say: A person's home is their fortress. Let every burglar or thief know that a hangman's noose awaits them," Tirosh warned. MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) lauded the court ruling, but called on Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to conduct an inquiry into why the state prosecution brought Dromi to trial in the first place, as he was "a Jew who fulfilled his duty to protect his life and property." Liat Collins, Hannah Fisher and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.