MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The number of attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank has been increasing dramatically. The United Nations, together with several Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, released a report this week. It shows the violence has grown by 150 percent in the past three years.
Here's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Farming is the mainstay of the Palestinian communities around the village of Yanoun. Animals graze the land and money is made harvesting citrus fruits and olives.
Last Saturday, Palestinians say a group of settlers killed some of the sheep belonging to the Bani Jabr family. Palestinians say its part of a regular pattern of harassment in the area by settlers.
IBRAHIM BANI JABR: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ibrahim Bani Jabr has a cut across his right eye which needed 12 stitches.
JABR: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: He alleges that Israeli soldiers, who were also there with the settlers, hit him with a rifle butt to the head when he tried to stop the slaughter of the sheep on land that belongs to his family.
Four other Palestinians were injured in the incident. Palestinians say not only did the army beat the villagers, but allowed the settlers to attack them. Both the settlers and the army deny the allegations, saying the Palestinians were the aggressors and the army acted to defuse the clashes.
There are over a hundred Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The international community views them as illegal under international law. Successive Israeli governments, though, have been expanding the settlement enterprise. Under current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, settlements have grown some 18 percent. And that swelling population, warns the new report, is one of the reasons there is a surge in violent confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank.
The report says militant settlers in particular are using violence as a tool in their campaign to take over more territory. Jessica Montell heads an Israeli NGO called B'tselem.
JESSICA MONTELL: Violence is a means of displacing Palestinians and expanding the settlement in a very explicitly.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Because the Israeli military is the ultimate authority in the occupied territories, it has a legal obligation to protect both Israelis and Palestinians. But that isn't happening, says Montell.
MONTELL: From the level of the soldier and then all the way up through the military and the police and the government, a much higher priority is given to addressing Palestinian violence than violence against Palestinians.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some 90 percent of complaints against settlers by Palestinians have been closed without an indictment, according to U.N. figures. And that, says the U.N., allows the settlers to act with impunity.
Matthias Behnke is with the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
MATTHIAS BEHNKE: Palestinians are almost defenseless. They have lost faith in the Israeli authorities, who are the ones who should ensure law and order.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Moshe Goldsmith is the mayor of the settlement of Itamar. He disputes the narrative that settlers are responsible for the bulk of the violence.
MAYOR MOSHE GOLDSMITH: I think you can look around and see who's driving the bulletproof buses. The Arabs aren't driving the bulletproof buses. The Jews are driving in bulletproof buses. Why? Because we're being shot up on all the time. We're the ones being attacked.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Goldsmith says that only last year, five members of the Fogl(ph) family were brutally slain in their beds in Itamar by Palestinian terrorists.
GOLDSMITH: I don't know anyone in Itamar, in our community, who has been arrested for attacking Arabs. Give me a name of someone.
UDWAN BANI JABR: (Foreign language spoken)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But Udwan Bani Jabr, was also injured in Saturday's confrontation, says there's no justice Palestinians. The army protects the settlers. And the settlers, he says, to do what they want.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.