Israel Passes New Crime-Deterrent Bill

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:19 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - A year after an Israeli farmer shot and killed a thief on his property and was charged with manslaughter for it, the Israeli Knesset passed a law giving homeowners more rights in defending what belongs to them.

The bill was named after the farmer, Shai Dromi, who shot at two thieves on his sheep farm, killing one and seriously wounding the other last year. At the time, he was charged with manslaughter, illegal weapons possession and assault with the intention to cause grievous bodily harm, reports said.

But the incident caused a public outcry.

The Shai Dromi Bill says that a person will not be held criminally responsible for "an act that was urgently needed in order to fight off someone who burglarizes or enters a residential home, business, or fenced agricultural plot...with the intention of committing an offence."

Unlike previous restrictions, the new legislation says that property owners do not need to face "a real danger to his own or another person's life, freedom, bodily welfare or property" before opening fire.

Knesset member Eli Gabai of the National Union-National Religious party, one of the bill's sponsors, told Cybercast News Service that the bill essentially gives the benefit of the doubt to the victim instead of to the intruder in cases where force is used to stop a theft or break-in.

Gabai explained that many farmers living in small rural communities in the Negev Desert in southern Israel and the Galilee region in northern Israel are preyed upon by thieves, but they worry about the consequences of using a gun to stop a crime in progress. Many of the perpetrators are Arabs or Bedouins.

The frequency of such crimes has caused many farmers leave the communities, Gabai said.

In some places, he said, people were asked to pay "protection money" to the thieves who would then agree to leave the farm or home alone.

Gabai said he hoped the new legislation would bring about a "drastic cut" in the number of thefts in these areas.

The bill passed the Knesset with a large majority, 44-7. But not everyone was happy about it.

Knesset member Zehava Gal-On, from the leftwing Meretz party, was quoted by the Israeli Web site YNET earlier this week saying that the new legislation was tantamount to imposing the death penalty for property offences.

"Burglars are criminals, but citizens cannot execute is unthinkable to have property rights surpass the right to life. Israel will become the only country that imposes the death penalty for property offences," she said.

The legislation does not cover all cases. The law says, "The provision will not apply if the [property owner's] act was manifestly unreasonable under the circumstances in order to repel the intruder or enterer."

According to statistics from 2004, some 225,000 Israeli civilians are licensed to carry personal weapons but there is a very high criteria for granting licenses to do so.

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