THE number killed so far in the latest wave of Arab unrest in the Middle East is not in itself as important as the fact that this movement has evidently been self-generated inside the occupied territories and among the members of the younger generation. In the past most acts of Arab resistance against Israel have come from outside, or in response to outside stimulus. The Arab activists were primarily among the refugees who left Israel and Israel's occupied territories during the five Arab-Israel wars. They were mostly men of the older generation.
This time the Arabs on the outside have apparently had nothing to do with the 13 days of demonstrations and rioting which since Dec. 9 have broken the peace, first in the Gaza Strip, and then in various other places on the West Bank, including Jerusalem itself.
Israel says that as of Monday, 15 Arab youths were killed. The Arabs say the number is at least 26. This occurred during riots in which waves of schoolboys and girls have attacked Israeli police and soldiers, using stones as their main weapon. Consciously or unconsciously they are engaged in a first serious and mass effort to take control of the streets away from the Israeli police.
They will lose this battle. Israeli military power is dominant in all the territories under Israeli rule. But this is not a last gasp of a dying movement. It is the opening battle in a new movement, the movement of the young Arabs who have lived their entire lives under Israeli rule.
Until now the Arabs of the occupied territories and of Israel itself have been largely passive bystanders in the war against Israel waged by the various factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization operating from outside.
The Arabs living inside the lines of the Israeli Army have until now looked for their ultimate liberation to come through diplomacy. Many of them have been waiting since 1948, when Israel came into existence. Many more have been waiting since 1967, when Israel took the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. For the first group the waiting has lasted 40 years; for the second group, 20 years.
Their hopes have been nourished by the prospect held forth ever since the 1967 war by resolutions of the United Nations calling for Israeli withdrawal from ``occupied territories.'' These resolutions are supported by virtually the entire world. Israel itself voted for the first one, UN Resolution 242. It has repeatedly been interpreted by the United States as requiring the withdrawal of Israeli forces from most of the occupied territories, subject to minor modification of the pre-1967 boundaries.
For many years the Arabs trusted the US to use its influence to bring compliance with UN Resolution 242. President Jimmy Carter tried for this during the Camp David meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. The Camp David agreement promised the Arabs local self-government.
But that was eight years ago. Never since has the Reagan administration applied pressure on Israel to carry out its obligations under Camp David. Hope deferred for 20 years grows cold.
The schoolchildren who daily threw the stones at Israeli soldiers over the last two weeks are exactly that, schoolchildren. They have lived their entire conscious lives under Israeli occupation. They have grown up in a community in which their parents have been a virtual slave population, the men and women who do the lowliest work at the lowliest wages in Israel or for Israelis. They are the last hired and the first fired. They are voteless. Their children are in revolt at the prospect of living their own lives as their parents have led theirs.
This new generation of Arabs will continue to rebel against the condition to which their parents have submitted. Hope has run out. The Arabs on the outside are no match for the Israeli Army. The nations on the outside have done nothing effective for 20 years to activate UN Resolution 242. The Arabs of the occupied territories see no hope now except from their own actions. This will go on.