A Ramat Beit Shemesh man described by neighbors and friends as a pillar of his community was sentenced to five years imprisonment and fined NIS 250,000 for shooting three people with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and inflict permanent disability.
British-born Shraga Rosenberg, an ultra-Orthodox dentist and father of five children, was taking a stroll on a Friday night in Ramat Beit Shemesh in April 2005, when he encountered three young French immigrants and a fight between the sides ensued. Rosenberg fired three shots with his licensed CZ pistol, immediately fled the scene and then turned himself into local police on the following Sunday morning.
The sentencing, which came this week, was a culmination of sorts to the story of two immigrants - Rosenberg and Yoni Atlan, the French youth most seriously injured by the incident - who came to live in Israel, where things turned horribly wrong on what was an otherwise uneventful Shabbat evening.
The long-awaited sentencing was announced Tuesday in a crowded Jerusalem District courtroom, as friends and family of both sides recited psalms in the moments before the judges read out their decision. But the ruling did not please either the defendant or the plaintiff, and both blasted the decision as a miscarriage of justice.
"In France, it would have been at least 10 years," said Yoni Atlan, 23, who lost an eye in the shooting and still has a bullet lodged in his brain. "The justice system in Israel is very disappointing. My life has been taken away - my health, my job, my girlfriend. He [Rosenberg] took everything from me."
"I was hoping for less," said Rosenberg, 43, who was surrounded by family and friends as he left the sentencing. "I have five kids at home."
The case sent shock waves through the Beit Shemesh community, where Rosenberg is known to neighbors for delivering food packages to the needy, studying in a neighborhood kollel (yeshiva for older students) and volunteering with the local civil guard.
"We expected community service - something that would fit a man as gentle and positive as he is," one member of the community said of the verdict.
According to accounts from both the prosecution and the defense, an inebriated Rosenberg left his home in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday April 16 to go for a walk and encountered Yoni Atlan and brothers Yonatan and Yigal Hayat, 24 and 20, who had also been drinking. A scuffle between the sides ensued, and Rosenberg pulled out his pistol and shot three bullets, hitting each of the three friends.
"The plaintiffs, or one of them, pushed the accused, caught his head in a choke hold, hit him, and kicked his back," part of verdict read. "At this point, the accused pulled out his pistol (for which he had a permit) and fired three bullets one after the other, in the direction of the upper body of each of the defendants."
According to some residents of Ramat Beit Shemesh, where the incident occurred, Rosenberg was responding to the kind of violence that has become an everyday part of walking through their local parks. The Hayat brothers, they say, were known as neighborhood troublemakers, who terrorized anyone taking a Shabbat stroll or an evening walk with the dog.
"The judges didn't take into context what goes on in our parks," says one Ramat Beit Shemesh resident, who attended the hearing on Rosenberg's behalf. "The parks have become very dangerous, and I don't even let my grown children walk through them at night. We know people who have been beaten up, kids who had bee-bee guns shot at them. Against this backdrop, it's surprising there was any sentencing at all. He [Rosenberg] was attacked, was provoked. There is no argument about that."
Though Rosenberg originally claimed self-defense, he agreed in a plea bargain to charges that he had fired the three bullets with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and inflict permanent disablement. The plea was seen as a move to avoid charges of attempted murder, which carries a much heavier sentence.
His lawyer, Yair Golan, maintains that his client acted out of self-defense, but that a plea bargain was their best alternative, since self-defense would have been difficult to prove in court. "Mr. Rosenberg was attacked," Golan said, "but his response was not proportionate to the threat posed to him."
But prosecuting attorney Nick Kaufman says that despite glowing character references, "Rosenberg walked out of his house on a Friday night with a gun and though his defense states that he was drunk, he still managed to load his gun, fire three times in succession and hit three people in the upper half of their body."
Kaufman said that given the crime, the sentencing was "excessively light" and he therefore plans to file an appeal to the Supreme Court. "An offense of this nature deserves at least 10 years," Kaufman said after the decision.
Golan, the defense lawyer, meanwhile said that he is also considering appealing the sentence.
Yesterday, Atlan returned to France, where he will continue his convalescence and therapy. Plans to surgically implant a glass eye are also under way.
"Life doesn't always work out the way we plan, but I hope that things will be better in the future," Atlan, who seems older than his 23 years, said as he prepared to leave the court and restart his life in his native France. "Hopefully, I will get what I deserve and Rosenberg will get what he deserves."
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