Shai Dromi says he regrets killing Khaled al-Atrash, 31, when he and three other Beduin tried to rob his northern Negev farm on Saturday morning, but insists he acted in self-defense. Dromi critically wounded a second alleged burglar, and police are searching for the other two. On Sunday, the Beersheba District Court extended his remand for four days.
Self-defense provision may aid farmer's case
"I apologize for the loss of human life, and I send my condolences to the man's family," Dromi told reporters in the courtroom. However, he insisted that he had acted to protect himself, firing at the legs of the thieves after he caught them in the middle of the latest theft of equipment and animals at the Shai ranch in the northern Negev's Yatir forest.
Dromi reportedly told police that four men arrived at his farm, poisoned a guard dog, and broke a lock on one of the sheep pens.
Dromi was distraught during his initial questioning, a detective said. Wire cutters and a snapped locked were found on the property.
Police said they were considering charging Dromi with murder, firing a weapon in a residential area, and using a rifle without a license.
Meanwhile in the court of public opinion, Dromi's remand created a political prisoner, especially as the agricultural community in the South faces a relentless wave of agricultural thefts.
Sympathetic farmers described a hardworking homeowner who, abandoned by the police, only wanted to protect his property.
MK Yisrael Katz (Likud), a former agriculture minister, said Sunday morning that the law should view resistance to domestic break-ins as an act of self-defense, as it does in some US states. Katz said he intended to submit a Knesset bill to that effect during an upcoming session.
"The country has abandoned farmers to their fates," said Agriculture Minister Shalom Shimhon. He said property owners on the periphery faced a daily "hell" and a very real threat to their livelihood.
Shimhon called on Internal Security Ministry Avi Dichter to develop and implement new ways to deal with the rampant theft at vulnerable farms in the South.
Eilo Peretz, director of Friends of the Negev Moshavim, also came to Dromi's defense, saying that area farmers' lives had "become a nightmare" and that property rights now had little value. He cited an instance when tractors had been stolen from his own farm as workers from Thailand slept inside them. When he and other frustrated farmers turned to the police, Peretz said the officer suggested the farmers donate a 4-by-4 vehicle if they wanted better protection.
Police, meanwhile, denied allegations that they were not taking adequate steps against the gangs of Beduin, Palestinian and Jewish thieves preying on Negev farms.
"What can we do, put a mobile unit on every individual farm?" a Negev district police spokeswoman asked during an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
"We are doing everything we can and we are doing it well," she said, adding that agricultural crime had been cut by 10 percent in the last two years due to the efforts of the Israel Police and the Border Police. "We have the intelligence, and police officers who work extremely hard, night and day, holidays; men and women who barely see their own homes."
She said blame for the theft problem was being misdirected, and that the courts' lenient stance toward perpetrators was compounding the already challenging situation faced by police.
"What can we do when the courts hand out light sentences for convicted robbers, only to let them out on house arrest before they have served all their time," she asked, an apparent reference to Atrash, who had recently been released from prison after serving four years for agricultural theft.
She also said some of the Border Police units that had been assisting the Israel Police in preventing the thefts had recently been reassigned to other tasks and jurisdictions.
"We are a small force in a large area, and we do need more help, including a need for more farmers and residents in the area to volunteer," the spokeswoman said.
She said Dromi should have called police when he spotted the intruders, instead of confronting them alone, especially since he had no gun permit.