The Israeli Army with its two bulldozers returned to this makeshift Arab village in the occupied West Bank last Sunday to finish the job: This time the Army did the work itself, the soldiers did not ask the farmers to destroy their own homes.

The soldiers came in the late afternoon, and it did not take them long to demolish the 40 tin-and-wood shacks and mud huts that were still standing on the edge of rich farmland that had recently been planted for the winter growing season in the Jordan Valley.

When the Army left, the ground was littered with the wreckage of what was once home to the farmers who tend the fields during the growing season that runs from September until the end of March. The farmers were told they were not allowed to remain in that place and that the Army would be back to make sure they were gone.

The incident climaxed four years of tension between the farmers and Israeli authorities, a collision between a modern state exercising military law in an occupied territory and the ancient, seminomadic ways of the farmers who come each year to the Jordan Valley in late summer to plant and care for the crops that will be harvested the following spring.

The destruction of what amounted to a shantytown was personally approved by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin because of its "sensitive" nature, according to a Defense Ministry official.

"Those places were illegal," the official said in explanation, referring to the shacks and huts. Another official said the huts had been built without permits and cited an unspecified "security factor."

The Army's visit to the village Sunday was the second in two weeks. The soldiers first came here Nov. 1, but then they ordered the farmers to destroy their own houses.

While the soldiers watched, the Palestinians used crude tools and their hands to dismantle the rickety shacks rather than see the Army bulldozer do the job and be forced to pay a fine. The Army demolished the homes of four farmers who refused to comply with the order.

After the first visit, many of the farmers vowed to stay -- and many did, sleeping on the ground, huddled beneath wooden carts piled high with bedding, kitchen utensils and other personal possessions. Goats, chickens and donkeys wandered through the wreckage of the village.

By now, however, most of the farmers were gone. Some had hauled the remnants of their shacks to the other side of the farm fields, away from the road and a nearby Jewish settlement, hoping to be able to remain there. Others took their families to the mountain villages around Tubas, where they normally live during the hot summer months. Those farmers now make a daily roundtrip to the farm fields to continue their work.

One of the few families to have remained here is headed by Majed Mufadi, 60. He, his 11 children, his wife and his mother, now sleep in the last structure left standing at the site of the village, a stone building used to house machinery for an irrigation pump.

Mufadi said he leases the pump and cannot leave it untended. His children are enrolled in a nearby Jordan Valley school, and he said he has no money to move elsewhere.

"What can I do?" he asked.

Capt. Elice Shazar, the spokeswoman for the Israeli Civil Administration in the occupied West Bank, confirmed the farmers' accounts of the two Army visits to Qarawa al Fauqa. She said the farmers had been warned last month to dismantle the dwellings.

On Nov. 1, according to Shazar, a military force headed by Lt. Col. Shalom Nouri, the military governor of Jericho, arrived at the village and ordered the destruction of more than 50 of the shacks. Nouri told the farmers he would return to destroy any of the other dwellings that were left standing, and he did on Sunday.

"This has nothing to do with the lands, but concerns a concentration of people in that spot," Shazar said. She said the demolition order was issued because the shacks had been built without permits from Israeli authorities and because of "a security factor," which she did not explain.

Shazar also said that because most of the farmers are legal residents of the Tubas area they are not entitled to stay overnight in the Jordan Valley.

"They can go back and forth," she said. "There is no reason why they can't go home at night, just like people do in Israel."

Asked about the expense of the travel for the farmers and their families, who also work in the fields, she said it should be paid by the Arab owners of the land who hire the farmers to cultivate it and share the harvest.

The farmers have been coming from their mountain villages to this area, one of the most productive parts of the Jordan Valley, for decades. Their first trouble with Israeli authorities occurred in 1980, when they were ordered to leave a similar ramshackle village they had built east of the Jordan Valley Highway and move west of the road.

The farmers complied with that order, which authorities said was issued for security purposes. According to a petition to West Bank authorities by the landowners, the new sites, including this one west of the highway and just north of the Jewish settlement of Masua, was approved by the Israeli authorities at the time.

"The relationship between the owners and the farmers is not that of employers and workmen," the petition said. "The owners have contracts with the farmers whereby the latter obtain a prescribed proportion of the production. To achieve the best results, the farmers' families live with them near the cultivated land, and the farmers' needs in the form of schools and clinics in the district where they live have been met.

"Consequently, to prohibit the farmers from living in the district will lead to their losing their means of livelihood and destroy a way of life to which they have been accustomed for decades and impose heavy material losses on the owners."

In a final attempt to forestall destruction of the farmers' shacks, lawyers retained by the landowners offered to move the farmers to any other spot near the fields acceptable to Israeli authorities. There apparently was no response to this offer.

"We didn't give any options," Shazar said.

Some of the farmers, interviewed a few days after the destruction of their huts, said they suspected that the Jewish settlers of Masua put pressure on West Bank authorities to remove the village in the hope of eventually gaining control of the nearby farm land. This was denied by Israeli authorities.

Some of the men of the village were defiant.

"I will not destroy my house," said Mustafa Said. "Let them come and destroy it over my head."

Others expressed bewilderment at the action that struck at their way of life.

"If the problem is security, there has not been a single incident in this area," said Mohammed Gazi Abu Hantash. "All people want is to eat and to live on their land."