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The farmer was lying on the blood-soaked earth with crows circling above him when his son found him. Saber Shteia, 74, was battered by four settlers in his olive groves and left to die. As his son, Thourri, and another farmer loaded Mr Shteia on his donkey, he muttered, "They have killed me".

The attack happened outside the village of Salem in the West Bank, which is under the jurisdiction of the Israeli police. Despite the severity of the attack, the police were reluctant to investigate and questioned Mr Shteia when he awoke in hospital only because of pressure from Israeli human rights groups. The investigation, like most Palestinian complaints about settler violence or crimes against them, led nowhere.

A new report by the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din ("There is a law") published last week estimates that 90% of all police investigations into crimes against Palestinians end in failure. The group monitored police activity in the West Bank for one year and found that the investigations were stopped because police did not have enough evidence or could not identify those responsible. The report found that the files were thin and basic police procedures were not carried out.

But the police argue that investigations into Palestinian complaints are hampered by the hostility of the settlers and the threat of violence from some Palestinians. The army and the police said they would study the Yesh Din report.

Judith Avidor, a researcher for Yesh Din, said that in most cases the identity of the settlers who commit crimes is known to the police. "It is no mystery. Their attitude is that they are there and they are proud of what they have done. We talk to the police and it is clear that they are either scared of the settlers or sympathetic to them."

In one recent case that did go to court, a settler who was convicted of killing a Palestinian taxi driver was able to leave the country before he was sentenced.

Since the 1994 Oslo agreements, the Palestinian Authority has had responsibility for policing Palestinian towns and cities. However, most of the West Bank remains the responsibility of Israel. The Israeli army also has a duty to uphold law and order but soldiers have been accused of standing by while settlers commit crimes. Almost every day assaults take place against Palestinians and their property, particularly around Hebron and Nablus, where the settlers tend to hold extreme political views and believe that the Palestinians have no right to exist in the West Bank, which they believe was granted to the Jews by God.

Mr Shteia continued to work his lands until his attack on April 1. Now he cannot walk more than a few paces and says he is in constant pain. His main concern is finding money for more hospital treatment. "I don't know if Israel will assert my rights," he said, "but I can only hope that justice will prevail."
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