THE WAY the Israelis handled the Palestinian protests -- with military tactics and disproportionate force -- was bad enough. The way they are handling the aftermath -- with military justice and the threat of deportations -- is no better. The arbitrary, hurry-up procedures of some Israeli military courts trying the nearly 1,000 detainees have led a number of the detainees' lawyers to boycott the trials. Meanwhile, deportation may face those the authorities designate as ringleaders, notwithstanding internal and international protests against use of a sanction that many lawyers believe to entail violation of a Geneva Convention.
These are harsh and unseemly measures, and their use is drawing further criticism upon Israel, including the taunting comparison to South Africa. Except for the scale on which these measures are being applied, however, there is nothing new here. Most foreigners may not have known much about them, but to the million-plus Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza they are the routine of a 20-year occupation. For almost 10 years, for instance, the State Department has been documenting abuses that taint the official Israeli picture of order, progress, fairness and, when and only when circumstances are compelling, civilized sternness.
To Israelis and others, the question has now arisen whether the familiar occupation practices will still do. Or has there been so great a change in the readiness of West Bankers and Gazans to challenge the soldiers and settlers that Israel, to hang on, may have to abandon the pretense of a light hand and openly apply a heavy one? The defense minister, who runs the West Bank, declares that Israel is prepared to use ''massive force'' if necessary. There is no reason to doubt him. Nor is there reason to doubt Israelis will do whatever they think they must for their security, despite -- sometimes because of -- foreign rebukes. Palestinians, by conducting terrorist operations and by failing to field a leadership competent to negotiate a West Bank settlement, lend a rationale and, in many Israeli minds, an inevitability to the hard line.
Its basic flaw, however, remains. It is that an occupation, no matter how it is run, builds hate and that it must be terminated -- and not by annexation, which some Israelis favor, but by agreement with representative Palestinians, who in turn must live in peace with Israel.