This photograph by Daniel Bar-On shows a soldier seemingly at rest, but not really; he is taut and tense in a way no sunbeam can dissolve and no hat pulled over his face can hide. Three brown beauty spots dot the lower part of his right cheek like a stellar constellation, a bluish shaving shadow on his neck and on his strikingly etched upper lip attest to his young age. He is not sleeping, only lying down, thumb stuck in the brudge of his nose, fingers supporting his hat and his left eye apparently open under the hat. He is looking at something, maybe at someone. His gaze is indecipherable. We can, then, observe his body, which is photographed from above and twists to the left, illuminated by the sun, his back disproportionately long compared to the other parts of his body, as in Ingres' painting, "Grande Odalisque."
Bar-On took this photograph of a soldier from the combat engineers during a break in the patrols along Highway 12, north of Eilat, as part of the search for more terrorist squads a day after the attacks, in which six civilians and two soldiers were killed. The IDF applied an immediate price-tag policy, bombing Gaza from the air and killing those deemed responsible for the attack, in the wake of which Grad missiles began to fly by the dozen and the tense quiet with Egypt was chipped away a bit more.
In other words, the photograph was taken on a day when civilized images of discussions at tent camps and of medical residents seeking more pay were replaced in the newscasts and newspapers with photographs of terror victims on the highway and transport helicopters carrying the defense minister to hospitals, passport photos of wanted men in Gaza who had been liquidated, photographs of their stretchers and heartrending photographs of funerals. Instantaneously, the fears that had been suppressed during the past month were catapulted to the forefront, pushing aside any thoughts of peace and normality - as though a society, even one surrounded by extremists, can accept a situation of endless war and turn its back on the possibility of dialogue with moderates.
But none of this is germane to Bar-On's soldier, whose mission was to act after the border was breached. He is a panther who is meant to spring but is now resting on the ground, on stones along Highway 12. But in contrast to Tim Harrington's well-known series of sleeping soldiers at Restrepo base in Afghanistan, who stayed there for years to the point of exhaustion, he does not and cannot allow himself to sink into unconsciousness. Bar-On looks at him without aggrandizing or glorifying him, and at the same time does not reduce or expose him for the sake of an artistic thesis; with surprising delicacy, the photographer discerns the tension that grips him. And slowly the viewer becomes conscious of something missing, of its absence or at least invisibility, and feels a strange, troubling tension: If this soldier is awake, where has he placed his rifle? The answer turns out to be simple, dependent on a renewed look, on observation of the details. It's there, both the butt and the end of the barrel. Aimed at the helmet.
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