MIKHMAS, West Bank — Shepherds from this Palestinian village say they think twice before taking their herds to graze near Jewish settlement outposts, fearing attacks by militant settlers.
Six villagers have been beaten during such forays over the past three years, according to residents, most recently on Sunday when assailants hit Najeh Abu Ali on the head and hands with metal pipes as he led sheep and goats to the grazing area.
Abu Ali, 47, was recovering Monday at a hospital in the West Bank city of Ramallah, his upper head and two fingers on each hand bandaged.
He and another shepherd who witnessed the attack, his relative Najati Abu Ali, said they believe the assailants were settlers, based on their appearance. They see the attacks as part of an attempt to scare the villagers away from the land.
“They (settlers) think that if they attack someone, then others will be afraid to come, and eventually they will take over the land,” said Najati Abu Ali, 40, who says he suffered a similar beating in 2011.
Israeli police spokeswoman Luba Samri would only say that an investigation has been opened, and that all possibilities concerning suspects and motives are being considered.
U.N. figures show a rise in settler attacks on Palestinians and their property in recent years.
In all, more than half a million Israelis live in settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, lands captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for their state, along with the Gaza Strip. Last month, Israelis and Palestinians resumed talks on drawing a border between them, ending a five-year freeze on negotiations.
The U.N. says the number of settler attacks that caused either injury or property damage rose from 116 in 2006 to a high of 411 in 2011, with a slight drop to 366 in 2012. So far this year, there have been 199 attacks linked to settlers, including 55 that injured Palestinians and 144 that damaged their property.
Friction is high in areas around settlements and outposts seen as particularly militant, such as the settlement of Yitzhar in the northern West Bank, and 110 Palestinian villages with more than 315,000 people, or more than 10 percent of the West Bank population, are especially vulnerable, according to the U.N. figures.
The settlers’ umbrella group, the Yesha Council, said it opposes attacks on Palestinians, but that it’s up to the police to take action against what it described as a few dozen troublemakers among the settlers.
“We have a natural and historic right to Judea and Samaria (biblical names of the West Bank), and we don’t need violence to prove our right,” said Yesha Council spokesman Yigal Dilmoni.
Dilmoni said Palestinian leaders need to do more to discourage violence against Israelis. The Palestinians rose up twice against Israeli occupation since 1987, and more than 1,000 Israelis and more than 4,000 Palestinians were killed in the two bouts of conflict.
The second uprising ended around 2006, and since then there have mostly be isolated Palestinian stone-throwing attacks on Israeli drivers.
In 2012, 49 settlers were injured by Palestinians, the U.N. said.