As I rounded the corner, I was temporarily blinded by the rays of the setting sun. As my eyes adjusted, they fell upon an incredible sight. The sun, now looking more like a glowing orange fireball, was retreating behind a backdrop of palm trees. The evening sky radiated with a mixture of orange, red, and pink hues, almost as if a man perched upon the setting sun had thrown buckets of paint across the sky to create the effect. The oppressive heat of the day had finally given way to the cool of the early evening, and a light, refreshing breeze swept across my face as I came around the turn and out from behind the cover of the buildings. Beyond the palm trees lay the Mediterranean sea, which would have completed the tropical image, but for one small detail; between that beautiful body of water and myself live 2 million people that would like to see Israel wiped off of the face of the map, and a couple of thousand who are a actively trying to do so, both groups living side by side in the area known as the Gaza Strip. For a second, though, as I rounded that corner and I saw the sun retreating behind those palm trees, I forgot where I was. Then, just as quickly, I remembered. My eyes followed the tips of the palm trees and traced them downwards, where they fell upon the top of a large cement wall, which provides the base with cover against sniper fire. A big, unsightly reminder of the state of affairs here; of young men destined for endless conflict along a border that is never really at peace. The army, like a painting, and like the sky that escorts the setting sun beyond the horizon, is as a canvass, splattered with a seemingly random mixture of darks and lights…of beauty and ugliness. They are intertwined with one another, and one highlights the other just as shadows in a drawing accentuate the light. And every now and then, even in the midst of an oppressive week, of an act of intense physical strain, of an ugly state of conflict, we can be momentarily distracted by a fleeting display of divine beauty, as if sent to us as a reminder that there is always good to be found, even though so much ugliness surrounds us.
While on guard at 4:30 this morning, I watched a tank roar to life a few dozen feet from my station. The moonlight, all ready dulled by the rapidly approaching dawn, still enveloped the tank, which seemed to shine even as it was engulfed by a cloud of dust kicked up by its own stirrings. It was strangely beautiful. And yet the sole purpose of a tank is to seek out and destroy human life. I wondered in that moment, as I still wonder now, if it is possible for an instrument of destruction to be beautiful. And is it then possible that the beautiful and the ugly are not as easily distinguishable from each other as I earlier hypothesized? Maybe, as in a painting, there are places between the shadows and the light; places that are at once both dark and light. Both beautiful and ugly.