On Oct. 28 Trudy Rubin, this newspaper's special correspondent in Israel, stood in the street in Hebron and watched Israeli bulldozers smash down Arab houses to make way for a Jewish settlement in the heart of that ancient of cities.
The policy under which this was being done was officially announced by Israeli Minister of Housing, David Levi, on Nov. 3. At the same time Mr. Levi said there would be five more new Jewish settlements started in the West Bank under the auspices of his ministry in the near future.
Nov. 3 happened to be the same day that the White House arranged to have Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin come to Washington for a meeting with President Reagan on Nov. 19.
The fact was noted in Washington that the new policy on planting Jewish settlements in occupied Arab territory was announced on the same day that President Reagan agreed to meet with Mr. Begin.
On Nov. 4 the State Department spokesman stated that the announcement in Jerusalem was ''most unwelcome.''
It was ''unwelcome'' because both the tearing down of Arab houses in Hebron and the decision to proceed with the building of more settlements for Jews in Arab territory is a direct challenge to the President of the United States and to his policies.
The challenge comes in double form. There is announcement of further plans for more settlements which avowedly aim at a time when the number of Jews in the occupied territories will push many Arabs out of their ancestral homes. On the day after Mr. Levi's announcement a spokesman for the World Zionist Organization , Zeez Ben Youssef, said the purpose is 400,000 Jews in the next five years and 1.4 million Jews in the area in 30 years.
The West Bank and Gaza strip are not big enough to hold both 1.4 million Jews and the 1.2 million Arabs who live there now. The Israelis are frank about their intention to push most of the Arabs out of West Bank and Gaza into Jordan.
Then there is the fact of knocking down Arab houses in a city which was totally Arab from 1929 to 1967.
To complete the background of the confrontation which seems now inevitable on Nov. 19 at the White House in Washington note that this taking up opposing positions dates from Sept. 1. On that date President Reagan announced his plan for a new start toward peace in the Middle East. It included a request for ''immediate adoption of a settlement freeze by Israel.''
On the next day Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin denounced the entire Reagan plan, including the request for the freeze.
Three days later the Israeli government announced the allocation of $18.5 million for three new settlements and approved plans for seven others. On the same day a Begin letter was made public in which Mr. Begin told the US President that the Reagan plan would ''endanger our very existence.''
On Sept. 8 the Knesset backed Mr. Begin by 50 to 36 votes.
On Sept. 19 (the first day that reports of the massacre in west Beirut began to reach Washington) the Knesset debated the American peace plan and supported Begin's rejection of it by 56 to 50 votes.
At the United Nations on Sept. 30 the new US secretary of state, George Shultz, explained the Reagan peace plan and repeated the Washington contention that ''Israel must yield territory to gain peace.'' Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir spoke the same day and said Israel would reject any plan for ''territorial amputation.''
Mr. Begin will come to Washington with more than defiance of the President. He also wants the President to add an extra billion dollars to the usual annual US subsidy to Israel. It has been running somewhat under $3 billion a year, depending on how you figure it. Israel's costs have skyrocketed due to the invasion of Lebanon - another act of defiance of the wishes of President Reagan.
So the President on Nov. 19 will receive a man in a remarkable attitude. It is usual when someone wants a very special favor, such as another billion dollars, to be somewhat considerate of the wishes of that other person. Mr. Begin comes both in defiance of the President and with a request for more subsidy.
Thus the scene is set for a meeting at which one of two things must happen. The President will take his stand on his Sept. 1 peace plan and insist on the freeze on Jewish settlements in Arab lands and moderate American aid to Israel unless or until it agrees to the plan. Or the President will sidestep the issue. Mr. Begin will continue to build more settlements for more Jews to live in Arab lands. The future shape of the Middle East depends on which way the President plays the hand.