THE other day a remarkable article entitled ``Israeli Brutality, Press Timidity'' appeared on the opinion page of the New York Times - written by Hal Wyner, an American who works as a correspondent in Israel for a West German and Swiss newspaper. On Israel's treatment of the intifadah, Wyner writes: ``... while there is no doubt that most Israeli soldiers are behaving with restraint under very trying circumstances, there are enough who are violating, with nearly complete impunity, all accepted norms of civilized military behavior and are creating an appalling human rights situation in the territories. On a regular basis, people are being shot in cold blood, randomly killed and maimed, detained without trial and beaten and humiliated by soldiers acting on orders.''
Wyner says these stories about Israeli brutality are toned down in the Western press. ``As difficult as it may be to believe,'' he writes, ``most stories on the [intifadah] that appear in the Western media are characterized not by exaggeration but by understatement. In spite of this, many non-Jewish correspondents have had to deal with accusations of anti-Semitism, while Jewish journalists (myself included) are censured for `self-hatred.'''
Wyner adds: ``... as a Jew, all this is distressing enough. But what is even more disturbing is that the Israeli government, while doing nearly nothing to correct this state of affairs, purports to be acting in the name of the Jewish people.''
Recently I wrote about American Jews and their compassion for the unfortunate. Stephen D. Isaacs, in his book, ``Jews and American Politics'' calls this political phenomenon ``a form of political messianism, a cry for justice from a people denied justice for thousands of years.''
Why not then a ``cry for justice'' or, at least, a much louder cry for justice in the way Israel is dealing with the intifadah? The American Jewish community, with their influential leaders, could be putting irresistible pressure on the Israeli government to end these inhuman acts. Is it because of toned-down accounts of Israel's brutality? Or is there another explanation?
Of Israel's continued resistance to finding solutions that could end these killings, the New York Times editorializes: ``The Likud leadership never seems to run out of ways to avoid talks with Palestinians. Last week's split decision by the Israeli cabinet to reject an Egyptian initiative for getting such talks under way is the latest example of this ingenuity.... The endless delays ... cannot serve Israel's long-term interests.''
Actually, polls in the US and Israel have shown widespread dismay among Jews over brutalizing the intifadah. But it has stopped short of a highly vocal protest.
Indeed, as New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis writes, ``The Jewish community in this country is concerned about where Israel is heading. Many American Jews, probably most, are opposed to the Shamir policy of holding on to the West Bank and Gaza forever by force, with all the self-brutalizing consequences.''
``But,'' he adds, ``the voice of the community is muted. The major Jewish organizations do not speak out critically...''
While noting that American Jewish voters are mainly interested in justice and fair play, Mr. Isaacs writes that his interviews with 200 Jewish leaders indicate that the driving force behind the high level of Jewish political activity is ``fear'' - fear that the terrible oppression they have suffered in the past will happen again.
Doubtless, the protest of American Jews over Israel's brutality has been muted, in part, by ignorance - from accounts that have themselves been muted. But fear, too, has played a major role.
Many Jews fear a resolution of the Mideast problem that would allow for a hostile Arab government. They fear that ``peace'' would be only temporary and that the indicated solution would only give rise to a growing threat to Israel's existence. This fear somewhat mitigates the revulsion over the mistreatment of the intifadah.