As the appalling stories and photographs of Israeli brutality against young Palestinians mount -- stories of deliberate bone-breaking, photos of a 14-year-old boy shot to death and, now, reports of four men buried alive by a bulldozer -- even the most disinterested observer is forced to conclude that the state of Israel has taken its final fall from grace.

From its desperate and romantic beginnings through its many wars of survival, Israel always seemed a nation run by courageous, intelligent and historically sensitive people whose success was predicated on their belief in themselves and the justness of their cause. Many could disagree with them but still admire the purity of their convictions.

No more. Recent events have demonstrated that Israel's special status as an enlightened nation has been lost -- if indeed such a status ever existed outside the mind of the beholder. Israel has shown all the qualifications needed to join the sordid ranks of the modern oppressor nation. Like a gifted child going bad, it is a nation in crisis.

The irony of Israel -- a nation made up of people who have been victims of state-sponsored terrorism, who have experienced grief, pain and life-wrecking experiences that fell upon them simply because of their religious and ethnic background -- is that it has apparently repudiated its past and changed places, assuming the role of fearsome vengeance seeker. The terrible sadness of it all is the weary realization that Israeli brutality will only harden Palestinians' resolve rather than break their will. Can Israelis not remember even their own recent history? LEONARD C. BRUNO Chevy Chase