Mary McGrory's shrill account of a complex and deeply troubling situation {Outlook, Dec. 27} does little to advance the cause of reasoned discussion about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

I too am pained by the loss of life and the accusations of excessive lethal force leveled against Israel. If Israel did indeed use unnecessary force, as McGrory states, it is saddening, and I trust there will be a thorough investigation and review of procedures once calm is restored. The experience of the Kahan Commission, which engaged in an exhaustive and no-holds-barred review of the Sabra and Shatilla tragedy in Lebanon, should reassure us of Jerusalem's commitment to rule by law and official accountability. If Israel's army and police are inadequately equipped and trained to deal with riot control, as the U.S. administration asserts, immediate steps must be taken to reverse the situation. And if individual soldiers engaged in acts of brutality, Israel's general in charge of the troops in both the Gaza and West Bank regions must follow through and, if warranted, prosecute, as Israel has publicly said it would.

But the blindly scathing criticism McGrory directs at Israel without more than a passing nod at Israel's unenviable predicament is deeply troubling. Especially repugnant was her preposterous moral equation: "The Jews have never accepted the Arabs as human beings any more than the Arabs have accepted the existence of a Jewish state." It is precisely the Arabs' unwillingness over decades to accept a Jewish state in their midst that has been at the root of the Arab-Israeli conflict for four decades, not the offensive and undocumented notion that Jews have "never accepted the Arabs as human beings."

And what occurred when one courageous Arab, Anwar Sadat, came forward in 1977? Israel responded and, with U.S. assistance, concluded the historic Camp David Accords. The result: Israel yielded a huge tract of land containing air bases and precious oil fields, not to speak of the vital strategic depth the land represented, for written promises of peace, nothing more. Still, Israel has correctly never regretted this risky exchange. And the Arab leader? Assassinated for having pursued peace. That fear of the gunman's bullet has prevented many other Arab heads of state and Palestinian leaders from issuing similar calls for face-to-face negotiations.

In no way can we deny the poignancy of the Palestinian problem, for which a just solution must be found. But let us not fool ourselves. The Arab world skillfully has manipulated the Palestinian problem as a weapon in the struggle against Israel by permitting the Palestinians to live for as long as 40 years in squalid camps. Where else in the world can one point to such a phenomenon? Moreover, when the West Bank and Gaza were under Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively until 1967, what did these countries do for Palestinian aspirations? Suppress them.

It's also worth remembering a few basic facts about the current situation that McGrory completely ignores:

Israel, in accordance with its international obligations under the Geneva Convention, has the responsibility to restore law and order in Gaza and the West Bank.

Israel faced a violent uprising, not an American campus protest. The protesters' use of firebombs was intended to maim and kill, not simply to make a debating point. In fact, in interviews with Western journalists, some of the demonstrators explicitly cited their aim of expelling Jews from Israel proper, arousing the worst visceral fears among Israelis.

If we have knowledge or visual images of events in the troubled areas, it is largely because Israel is committed to a free press. Where were the media, for example, when 20,000 or more Syrians were slaughtered in Hama, Homs and Aleppo from 1979 to 1982 or, for that matter, during the war in the Falkland Islands?

If soldiers overreacted to civil unrest, ought it to be so entirely strange to the world? Is the record of the United States and other countries in coping with unrest perfect? McGrory's assertion that "inside Israel, there is silence" is directly contradicted by photographs and an accompanying report that appeared in various U.S. papers the same day as McGrory's column of a sizable protest demonstration in Jerusalem, the third organized by Peace Now since the unrest began.

McGrory's claim that "Palestinian youth . . . were living under apartheid" is especially pernicious. No conceivable ultimate settlement in the Arab-Israel conflict could codify the separation and inequality central to South Africa's institutionalized racism.

The challenge for those committed to peace -- in Israel, the United States, Jordan and among Palestinians prepared to repudiate senseless armed struggle and recognize Israel's right to exist -- will be how to accelerate the process. As McGrory states, "negotiation is clearly the answer." I agree. The alternative to peace talks is indeed unthinkable.

David Harris

The writer is Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee.