Saul Bellow once wrote that the Middle East has become for the West what Switzerland is to winter holidays -- a "moral resort area." It's high season now. With Palestinian rioting soon to enter its third month and Israeli attempts to suppress it becoming increasingly desperate, there has never been a better time for striking moral poses about the Middle East.

Woody Allen set the tone on the New York Times op-ed page last week. He wrote, "I'm not a political activist. If anything, I'm an uninformed coward." His mind inclines "to more profound matters: man's lack of a spiritual center, for example -- or his existential terror. The empty universe is another item that scares me, along with eternal annihilation, aging," etc. You think, you hope, that Allen is doing a parody of the self-obsessed neurotic. No such luck. "Now after months of quiet in my own life, another situation has arisen" -- he refers here to his previous public stands against the twin evils of apartheid and colorization -- "and a stand must be taken."

The artist's repose having been disturbed by nettlesome, if distant, Semites, he feels compelled to speak out. He addresses the Israelis: "I mean, fellas, are you kidding? Beatings of people by soldiers to make examples of them?" Won't you cut it out? The man is trying to wrestle with God, make his movies, parent with Mia -- and you disturb his domesticity with distressing pictures.

Since, writes Allen, "I prefer instead {of politics} to sit around in coffee houses and grouse to loved ones privately about social conditions," he has no suggestion to offer Israelis about either how more humanely to control Palestinian violence in the short run or how to escape the dilemmas of occupation in the long run. That he leaves to others. Jonathan Schell once wrote a 244-page book describing in graphic detail how nukes make your eyeballs fall out and your skin melt and thus must be abolished. Exactly how? That "awesome, urgent" task, he wrote, "I have left to others." To his credit, Schell did follow up a couple of years later with an attempted solution. We await Allen's. In the interim, having made his courageous stand, he can return to his table at Elaine's.

At the other tables, the moral vacationers are deeply concerned about Israel's soul. There is great nostalgia for the Israel of yore, the noble, vulnerable Israel so suddenly beloved of its critics. The cover of the current Economist captures the mood perfectly. It quotes the prophet Hosea: "When Israel was a child, then I loved him."

Why loved then, not now? Because, as Oriana Fallaci once complained to Ariel Sharon, "You are no more the nation of the great dream, the country for which we cried." Israel as victim, Israel on the brink of annihilation was so easy to love. It required only pity and a handkerchief. It is, after all, no moral effort to love a charity case. "My goodness!" writes Woody Allen. "Are these the people whose money I used to steal from those little blue-and-white cans after collecting funds for a Jewish homeland?"

They are. What happened to them? Forty years of continual attack from every conceivable quarter: Arab armies, terrorists and now angry Palestinians over whom Israel never sought to rule, but for whom no one, other than those committed to destroying Israel, wants responsibility. Under these terrible circumstances, Israel has committed terrible sins: Sabra and Shatila being the worst, the beatings of Palestinians in the territories being the most recent.

The beatings are a horror and blot on Israel. They represent the kind of brutality a desperate army resorts to and for which there is no excuse. It is a relief to learn that Defense Minister Rabin has issued orders restricting the use of violence to stopping rioters in the act of rioting, and not otherwise.

It is perfectly legitimate to express revulsion at the beatings. And perfectly frivolous to stop there. For a moral critique to be serious, it must show concern for principle, not for parties. Serious ethics, like justice, is blind.

At a moral resort, however, it is not. So much concern for Israel's Jewish soul. Do Arabs, too, not have souls? When they prick, should our hearts not bleed? When the government of Syria killed 20,000 people in the 1982 Muslim Brotherhood uprising in Hama, where were the anguished editorials about the Arab soul? In 10 days in 1970, plucky little King Hussein killed 3,400 Palestinians in putting down a PLO uprising. (In the last two months about 40 Palestinians have died at Israeli hands.) No concern about the state of his soul. Or that of the Palestinians themselves. After Sabra and Shatila 400,000 Israelis turned out to protest. How many Palestinians protested the murder of the Israeli Olympic athletes?

A second characteristic of the moral vacationer is that he feels obliged to offer only indignation, not alternatives. No country can give free rein to rioters. Even an occupying power has an elementary responsibility to keep order. How to subdue rioters who know that the threat of death or deportation is almost nil? How to stop rock throwing and fire bombing without at least the threat of violence? Surely the police of New York and Paris don't know.

Israel's critics, so concerned about its soul, would have a little more credibility if they displayed equal concern for Israel's body. After all, it is that body -- its right to mere existence -- that has been the burning issue for 40 years now. Israelis don't crave the tears of the West's moral vacationers. They crave life. Any Arab negotiating partner who, like Sadat, fully declares that life to be an absolute given, will soon find across the table the kind of Jewish soul for which the moral nostalgics so ostentatiously pine.