Colman McCarthy does his lifetime devotion to human rights a great injustice with his reckless, vituperative, slanderous charges against the Israeli defense forces {"Exposing Israeli Violence," Style, July 15}.

I have never felt that Israel should be exempt from critical scrutiny. It has made some mistakes; it has overreacted in some situations, and it has taken defensive steps that trouble civil libertarians.

Some months ago I became a member of Middle East Human Rights Watch, working and meeting regularly with Palestinian Americans, scholars and former diplomats. I am well informed about the human rights practices of all Middle East countries, including Israel, and have joined in appeals for changes in policies that might reduce the terrible consequences that flow inevitably from military conflict or occupation.

But nothing I have seen or heard could support McCarthy's outrageous indictment of Israel as being supportive of, or even indifferent to, the deaths of Arab children caught in the horror of war or intifada. How dare he declare that "the Israeli army has systematically become a child-killer"?

As a Jew and as an unapologetic supporter of the Jewish state, I am outraged. Like every Israeli and every Jew I have ever known, I proudly identify with words spoken by Golda Meir some years ago: "Some day," she declared, "we may be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our children, but we will never forgive them for making us kill some of theirs."

Arab children have been dying. So have Israeli children, deliberately killed in school bus attacks and attacks on the sleeping quarters of kibbutzim. Instead of baseless scolding, McCarthy should ask what can be done to eliminate both the short-term and long-term causes for these tragic deaths.

Today's struggle for "self-determination" for Palestinians provides the rationale for "armed struggle against the occupier." But it must not be ignored that the PLO was organized in 1964 -- before the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank -- and committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. Let McCarthy take the time to add up how many children, Arab and Jewish, might have lived if the Arab world had not been engaged for more than 40 years in the struggle to wipe out Israel.

I do not cite this history to deny the Palestinians' struggle for the rights they deem appropriate today. But they cannot escape blame for their tactics. The intifada has used children as cannon fodder. Is that the kind of struggle McCarthy, the pacifist and human rights champion, endorses?

If McCarthy condemned the recent aborted attempt by Palestinian terrorists to storm Israeli beaches, I missed it. If he wondered in such a column whether these terrorists had been instructed to make sure not to kill any children as they sprayed their machine-gun bullets at swimmers, he would at least have demonstrated some evenhandedness.

To this day, the PLO has yet to condemn that aborted terrorist raid. Contrast this with the universal Israeli condemnation some weeks ago of that tragic shooting spree by a deranged Israeli.

-- Hyman Bookbinder The writer is Washington representative emeritus of the American Jewish Committee.