Police the South

No Negev farmer is exempt from the reign of terror imposed by Beduin gangs. The police do little, and rarely arrive even when summoned.

farmer shai 298 (photo credit: Channel 1)
farmer shai 298
(photo credit: Channel 1)
Negev rancher Shai Dromi is now charged with murder after having fired at four men who trespassed on his property, poisoned his guard dog (not the first such occurrence) and broke his sheep-pen locks. They were about to get away with his entire herd, in which everything he had was invested. The loss of the herd would have meant ruin. Dromi had been robbed of his livestock in the past, and barely managed to rehabilitate his small agricultural enterprise. The fear of repeated thefts was so tangible that he had taken to spending the bitterly cold desert nights with the sheep in their pen to prevent rustlers from destroying his livelihood and life's work. He isn't the only one. No Negev farmer is exempt from the reign of terror imposed by Beduin gangs. The police do little, and rarely arrive even when summoned. Insurance companies will have nothing to do with the beleaguered farmers. Their only alternative is to pay exorbitant "protection" money to Beduin "guards" to prevent them from absconding with equipment, livestock and produce. This situation, as The Jerusalem Post warned in these very columns last week, is plainly untenable. Dromi's case was a disaster waiting to happen, as noted in that same prescient editorial on January 10 - several days before the incident at Dromi's ranch. We titled that article "The Wild South" - the prevalent appellation for the lawless Negev, where no entrepreneur, homeowner or driver is safe from Beduin gangs. Dromi is clearly not criminal material. He attempted to warn the rustlers away but then feared that if discovered, they'd murder him. He didn't shoot to kill, aiming at their feet. His misfortune was that one of his bullets hit Khaled al-Atrash's leg artery. Dromi desperately attempted to resuscitate Atrash, who had just been released from a four-year prison stretch for farm thefts. Atrash had been out for just one week prior to resuming his previous "occupation." From Dromi's vantage point, and from that of fellow farmers - who demonstrated Tuesday in solidarity with him - this is a classic case of self-defense. His neighbors, as well as farmers elsewhere in Israel, agree that Dromi is an incidental offender. It could have been any of them. Israeli law does allow for self-defense, within defined parameters. A ruling by Supreme Court Justice Edna Arbel last October argued that pre-conditions to self-defense must be "the immediacy of the threat" and "the necessity to counteract it by force," as well as evidence that "a less injurious choice wasn't available." Moreover, Arbel stressed proportionality: "The attacker cannot be killed in order to prevent loss of property, even if there is no other way open to avoid property loss." In the Wild South, however, the line between threats to property and to life is a fine one which cannot be easily determined. As we have seen, marauders have stabbed members of the police attempting to arrest them, and have shown even less compunction against physically attacking the victims of their thefts. It is clear that if the police does not quickly and effectively act to restore the rule of law, the risk of vigilantism will grow and more deaths will ensue, among both innocent victims and criminals. This is increasingly the reality in the Wild South, where the police is scarcely available and is anyway loath to take action, and where the citizenry feels abandoned to its fate by authorities who renege on their fundamental obligation to provide protection and to keep the peace. Providing basic security is the state's paramount responsibility. In the case of what has become a vicious criminal war on Israeli agriculture, it is failing to meet that obligation. Perhaps if the state were made liable for the losses which our agricultural sector incurs because of unchecked crime, it would finally confront the marauders. One way or another, the case of Shai Dromi underlines a danger that should have long been obvious, and that should long since have been effectively confronted.