Back in the late 1960s, when racially connected riots and disturbances were frequent, a colleague of mine prepared an all-purpose story for which the writer needed only fill in the blanks. One sentence went like this: "The sheriff of blank-blank county blamed the disturbance on 'outside agitators.' " Little did we know that someday the blanks would be filled with the name of Israel.

In the case of various American sheriffs, you never knew who the "outside agitators" were. The Israelis have been a bit more specific. They blame the recent and -- to some extent -- continuing riots in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on the Palestine Liberation Organization and other anti-Israeli organizations. At the same time, some Israeli leaders also concede that the riots were spontaneously generated and that only after they had begun did the PLO attempt to take advantage of them.

But the sophistication of that analysis is contradicted by the blunt action taken. Israel has announced the intended deportation of nine Palestinian nationalists. Jerusalem says these people are "the chief instigators" of the recent unrest and accused them of being senior PLO organizers or acting in behalf of Moslem fundamentalist groups. Given the usual appeals -- up to now, always attempted in vain -- the deportations may be delayed a month. After that, the nine will unceremoniously be dumped in an Arab state -- maybe Jordan. In the past, Israel has simply deposited people in Lebanon.

Naturally -- and correctly -- the United States has protested. Deportations are in violation of international law, a cause close to the heart of the State Department unless, as in the case of Nicaragua, international law does not suit our purpose. But State, having registered its objections, is not likely to do anything more. Israel is our ally, the American-Jewish community is politically powerful, and a presidential election looms. A rebuke is probably in the mail.

But violation of international law aside, Israel will make a grave mistake if it persists in deporting the nine Palestinians. There is something particularly abhorrent about deportations; they arouse world public opinion. It's worth asking why -- unlike, say, a long jail term -- they do so. The reason is that the very act -- kicking a person out of his country -- announces that the deportee is stateless, that he was a guest in the country that gave him the boot, that he has no rights in the place of his birth. The deportations highlight the plight and the angst of Palestinians.

The deportations also improve the status of the PLO. From all indications, the recent riots were not its doing. The PLO jumped on the bandwagon and tried to use the disturbances for its own benefit. After a while, it surely had an influence and may, in some cases, have instigated some outbreaks. But by deporting persons linked to the PLO, Israel all but concedes the importance of that organization. It gives it a status it might not, in this case, deserve.

Worse, the deportations are an exercise in self-deception. Just as any 1960s era sheriff had to look no farther than the wretched living conditions of his city to find the cause of his riots, Israelis need only tour the occupied territories to understand what has happened. Since 1967 a generation of Palestinians has come of age that has known only Israeli occupation. It has seen its leaders jailed, its schools occasionally closed, its writers censored. Israel has attempted to stamp out Palestinian nationalism with a combat boot. It has not worked.

What does the Israeli leadership expect? Does it think that the 750,000 Palestinians of the West Bank and the 600,000 of the Gaza Strip will, unlike other national groups, accommodate themselves to being governed by people of a different culture and religion? Does it think that the nine to be deported will not soon be replaced by at least nine others? Does it believe, like the southern sheriff who always said his blacks were happy, that there is no such thing as indigenous Palestinian nationalism? There is -- and the PLO is the result, not the cause, of it.

The deportations are a sword taken to the Gordian knot of the Palestinian problem. But this knot will soon reconstitute itself -- next time maybe even tighter. The deportations contradict the reality of the situation. The problem for Israel in the occupied territories is not external but internal and, for the future of Israel, awful to contemplate. Israel is the master of nearly 1.5 million Palestinians. In the dated lexicon of American police authorities, they are all outside agitators.