Farmer jailed for protecting his land

Tuesday, February 06, 2007 |  by Staff Writer
Shai Dromi, a farmer in the southern Negev, sits in jail awaiting trial for shooting a Bedouin intruder on his ranch.

After numerous encounters with the Bedouins stealing herds of livestock and other farming equipment, Dromi began to take matters into his own hands to defend himself and his farm. He began sleeping in a room that he built in his sheep pen out in his fields and when perpetrators entered his fields this last time he grabbed his .22 caliber rifle and shot at the thieves’ legs when they would not leave.

One of the thieves, Khaled al-Atrash, had been shunned by his own tribe after he was suspected of stealing from another tribe member. Al-Atrash later died of his wounds.

Bedouin tribe leaders used to call the shots in the Negev desert, but now the younger generation of Bedouin men have formed organized crime rings and nightly search out the areas of the Jewish farms and ranches looking for livestock and agricultural equipment to steal.

According to local farmers, the crime problem is not only financially motivated. There are Israeli and Jewish organizations around the world that have donated funds to help build the Negev and the Bedouin do not want to see the settlement of the Negev by Jews. There is a struggle for the Negev that no one wants to admit is underway. The Bedouin see themselves as the indigenous inhabitants of the land, and are often supported by human rights groups.

Shai Dromi was performing CPR on al-Atrash when the police arrived. He was immediately arrested and was only allowed home when he was brought by police to re-enact the incident, as the police require as part of their investigation.

“When I was informed of what happened, I knew what would happen. But I was surprised at the rigor with which they tried to make a case of it,” said Mira Dromi, Shai’s mother. “They said he is dangerous, when the real issue seems to be impotency of the government and its various arms in dealing with the reality here.”

Shai’s appeal date is scheduled for February 11.

“It will still be my Israel, for better or for worse. But they would be missing the mark,” said Mira of her son if he’s convicted. “When the victim has to pay the price, the criminals will soon be out to operate again.”

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