ISRAELI SOLDIERS shot nearly a dozen Palestinian teen-agers on the West Bank Tuesday, wounding them in different degrees. The teen-agers, boys and girls, were unarmed. Some were on their own campus. They were demonstrating, including throwing stones, after Israeli military authorities closed down Bir Zeit University in response to "Palestine Week" activities planned there. Such activities, the Israelis contended, would end up inciting violence. But it was the soldiers who committed the real violence. First they warned the demonstrators, then they shot in the air, and then they aimed at the students' legs. One student was hit in the stomach.
There is, of course, a problem of Palestinian terrorism in the territories Israel captured in 1967, and in Israel proper. Also on Tuesday, a Gaza Palestinian known for his sympathies for Camp David was assassinated. The war against terrorism is hard but necessary. But to shoot up unarmed students demonstrating on their campus? This is the act of an arrogant police administration. It is shameful.
The shootings, moreover, were not really aberrations. Resistance to Israeli occupation, though it has its ups and downs, is constant. The Israeli government's policy is to reply by force with regular units and, it is increasingly suspected, to wink at the use of force by irregulars among the settler population and their army colleagues. Often force is used preemptively or routinely -- not merely to retaliate but to intimidate. A press veil is drawn. And when the Palestinians turn to political action, the authorities crack down there, too. The government refuses to deal with the PLO on grounds that it is terrorist and unelected, but then it expels mayors who are political and elected. As we see, it shoots students.
The shooting is Israel's business, and Israel's burden, but it is the United States' business and burden, too. The United States underwrites Israel, which means not only that it underwrites Israeli security but that it underwrites occupation of the West Bank. Jimmy Carter tried his best to get out from under by supporting Palestinian autonomy. The version of autonomy that the Israeli government has labored to negotiate, however, has drawn no Palestinian takers. Ronald Reagan has indicated he'll set the Carter autonomy approach aside. The shooting in the West Bank is merely the latest bit of evidence suggesting that he has no choice.