Call to Order / An Offensive for Self-defense

No fewer than four draft laws falling into the category of "the Shai Dromi Law" are currently being debated in the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. All have passed a preliminary reading and are currently being prepared for their first reading in the plenum. All the drafts propose that a person who encounters a burglar on his property is permitted to attack the thief without being held criminally responsible for it. At the very least, the proposed laws would make more lenient the conditions under which a property owner may attack an intruder. It appears that at least one of the drafts will be passed - after all, the current Knesset is especially conservative.

On the night of January 13 this year, a number of Bedouin thieves broke into Shai Dromi's farm near the village of Meitar, near Be'er Sheva. Dromi shot two of them, killing one and wounding the other. He was arrested and tried for manslaughter. Dromi's arrest sparked a wave of protests over farmers' inability to act against those stealing their cattle and agricultural equipment and the police's impotence in dealing with the matter.

Last Tuesday, a battery of the state prosecution's lawyers, the police and the Internal Security Ministry appeared before the Knesset committee to explain that the entire law enforcement system was opposed to the draft laws. Attorney Ravid Dekel of the Justice Ministry explained to the legislators that the message of these draft laws was that "in some cases it is more important to protect property than to protect human lives." Attorney Nehama Zussman of the State Prosecution's appeals division stressed: "It is extremely important to the prosecution to clarify that we consider these draft laws to be the basis for a new and very dangerous norm." She pointed out that today, too, a person who kills an intruder because he fears for his life does not bear criminal responsibility. That applies even if the person in question wrongly estimated the threat he faced. It is known as the "mistake of fact defense." The new draft laws, on the other hand, wish to grant protection in a case of danger to property, too. "This opens the door for people to take the law into their own hands," Zussman said.

"The police are opposed to the proposed laws," attorney Ayelet Levy, assistant to the Internal Security Ministry's legal adviser, clarified. "They increase the likelihood that a person will act as he sees fit." Also opposed to the draft laws were Police Superintendent Avi Davidson and the assistant to the police's legal adviser, attorney Dana Chernobelsky. They pointed out that even policemen do not have such wide-ranging authority to attack criminals and added that it is possible to interpret the proposed laws in such a manner as to permit killing a thief even when he is fleeing.

According to Davidson, the draft law is superfluous. He examined a sample of 100 cases in which the defendant claimed self-defense, "and I didn't find one case of an innocent citizen defending his home or his property from a burglar." He said that while people are interrogated in such cases, for the most part no indictment is submitted against them. Davidson warned that passing the law could result in burglars arming themselves in anticipation of having to defend themselves. He cited the example of someone who mistakenly shot his brother, who had returned from a party, and even in that case, no indictment was filed against him. He also asked whether it was the intention of the legislative branch to encourage people who had just woken up from their sleep to use a lethal weapon.

The MKs were upset by the opposition of the law enforcement bodies. "The legislator decides. You cannot tell him what is okay and what is not," MK David Rotem of Yisrael Beiteinu said. "Who sets norms in Israel - the MKs or the state prosecution?" he asked. "The prosecution, what a question," answered the National Union's MK Zvi Hendel ironically.

The four draft laws were approved in a preliminary reading as far back as February this year. The most far-reaching proposal was made by the former deputy to the police commissioner, Yisrael Beiteinu's Yitzhak Aharonovitz. In the meantime, Aharonovitz has been appointed tourism minister; and today he is the leading supporter of the proposal forwarded by his colleague, Rotem. This proposal states that anyone attacking a burglar who invades his home or yard will be considered as acting in self-defense, even if he acted before being personally attacked and even if he kills the burglar. According to representatives of the police, this very proposal grants citizens an amount of authority that policemen lack, including the right to shoot at someone who is fleeing.

The draft law that is expected to pass incorporates all three proposals - made by Likud MK Yisrael Katz, Zvi Hendel (National Union) and Eliahu Gabbay (National Religious Party). The draft states that a person will not bear criminal responsibility if he hurts someone who broke into his home. As for breaking into a yard or the land of a farm, the law will be more stringent. It is possible that an attack on someone entering these properties will be defined as a case of self-defense, unless the property owner acted out of extreme unreasonableness. In addition, it is possible that the property owner will be forced to act according to open-fire regulations.

A secret Arab

MK Sara Marom Shalev of the Pensioners' Party had an idea. MK Dov Khenin from Hadash could solve the dilemma of whether an Arab could join the confidential sub-committee on internal security. "It is true that we are tense over whether to accept them because we are a democracy," she said, "but that is why we can accept Dov Khenin, who belongs to them. He doesn't have to be an Arab."

The committee's members were dumbstruck. The chairman, Ophir Pines-Paz, turned to Khenin and said: "MK Marom Shalev tried to put some kind of mirror in front of you." "A challenge," Khenin corrected him. Pines-Paz then proceeded to explain to Marom Shalev: "No, MK Khenin is not one of them. He is one of us. He cooperates with them - with some of them - in the framework of a joint political party, but he is still a Jew." "Still, and forever," Khenin declared his allegiance. "That's not going to change."

Two weeks ago, the Knesset's Interior Committee decided to set up a secret committee for internal security. The official explanation as to why such a committee was needed was the desire to increase oversight of the police force. Another possible explanation is that the confidential committees of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee enjoy a great deal of prestige, and the members of the interior committee believe they should also receive some of the prestige that comes with secrecy. It was Khenin who suggested recruiting an Arab MK for a confidential committee - and not just any Arab, but the senior representative of the Islamic Movement in the Knesset, Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsur. He says that "the subject is very relevant for them. They have a great deal of trouble with the police and the prisons."

Since Khenin refused to be the "Arab" of the committee, Pines-Paz was left with a dilemma. The power of the sub-committees lies in their confidentiality, which ensures the cooperation of the security forces. MK Effie Eitam from the National Union warned: "I assume that if there is an Arab committee member, both the Shin Bet security service and the police will refrain from placing their cards on the table, with all that this implies. In other words, if there is an Arab, there is no point in setting up the committee."

Pines-Paz was unable to be as harsh as Eitam. He also has to think about a possible petition to the High Court of Justice. "In general terms," he said, "there should be no obstacle [to including an Arab on the committee]. But that still does not mean that if there is nothing to prevent it, it is obligatory." He also pointed out that a large number of MKs had approached him, asking to participate on the committee, while Sarsur had shown no interest. According to him, "We also have to be fair. No one can suspect me of trying to discriminate against an Arab. But with all due respect, there are people who are more familiar with the issue and more active on the committee. I don't see any reason why I should have to put someone on the committee forcefully." Meanwhile Sarsur has remained on the outside.