Negev farmer warns supporters not to call 'open season' on thieves

Several dozen of Dromi's neighbors demanded in front of courthouse his freedom.

farmer shai 298 (photo credit: Channel 1)
farmer shai 298
(photo credit: Channel 1)
Shai Dromi, the northern Negev farm owner who shot and killed a Beduin trespasser on Saturday, had his remand extended for six days on Wednesday by the Beersheba District Court. During the hearing, the officer heading the investigation, Yossi Mickilof, said "the aggressive manner in which the shooting was executed gives an indication of a motive. From the beginning, it was clear that we were looking at a possible murder situation." Police said that charges of firing a weapon in a residential area and possessing a weapon without a permit were applicable in Dromi's case. Several dozen of Dromi's neighbors, as well as members of the Cattle Farmer's Union and the Israel Farmers' Federation, gathered in the square in front of the courthouse on Wednesday and demanded he be exonerated. The demonstrators called for the court to charge a second Beduin man, who was critically wounded in the shooting that killed Khaled al-Atrash, 31, who had a record of agricultural theft. Police were still seeking two other men who fled the shooting. Regardless of the support, Dromi said before the hearing that he was pessimistic about being released, and while he maintained his innocence, he cautioned his supporters and other agricultural workers not to call an open season on thieves. "By no means should there be a message conveyed here that everyone can raise a rifle and shoot another man, god forbid. But the reality of defenselessness must come to an end. The authorities must take this issue under consideration," Dromi said. Dromi's attorney, Suzi Shlo, argued that the farmer was innocent of the charges, save perhaps for keeping a weapon without a permit. "Shai was the last front against the bandits, after the first front, which was the guard dog that was taken out," Shlo said. "Shai was the last and only obstacle from preventing the thieves from taking control of the ranch." "I hope that the country, the police, and the prosecutors will not go against public opinion and the reality on the ground," Shlo added. Police suspect the four men arrived at Shai Farms in the Negev's Yatir Forest - site of previous agricultural thefts, according to Dromi - poisoned a guard dog, and were attempting to steal animals or farm equipment when Dromi discovered them, opening fire on the trespassers with an unlicensed rifle. Dromi has expressed regret for the killing, but maintains he fired in self defense. In the wake of the shooting and Dromi's initial remand, farm owners frustrated by agricultural theft flocked to the courthouse to argue that their fellow farmer had been forced to take the law into his own hands to protect his livelihood. The farmers and agricultural officials, including Ramat Hanegev Regional Council head Shmuel Rifman and Agriculture Minister Shalom Shimhon, complained that police were not doing enough to protect the farmers' property.