Kiryat Malachi, Israel — They pick through the tangled foliage, Orthodox men with long beards and black kipahs, wearing white gloves and bright yellow vests, searching for body parts.
A few yards over and four stories up, construction workers drive drills into a bombed apartment building. They speak to each other in Arabic. Can they read the Hebrew banner hanging one floor above them vowing to exact a price for Jewish blood? Or the sign on the other side of the building calling on Israel to conquer Gaza?
Noon has just passed on Friday – a little more than 24 hours after the apartments on the top floor had taken a direct hit from one of Hamas’ Grad missiles, killing three people. As of Sunday, the dead are Israel’s only fatalities since the launch last week of Operation Pillar of Defense.
The Israeli offensive, which started with the killing of the senior military commander of Hamas and has targeted the terrorist group’s governing infrastructure and left more than 60 Palestinians dead, aims to stop the rocket fire raining down on Israel from Gaza. Last week, those rockets reached the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for the first time.
In Kiryat Malachi, the ill-fated apartment building, like others in the low-income Har Chabad neighborhood, contains aging apartments and a peeling yellow exterior. Now its highest floors look like a scene out of 1980s Beirut: a bare skeleton of concrete framing a gaping hole where people used to live.
“Can you get a ladder?” yells Chaim Shteiner, one of the men in a yellow vest. Maybe the remains of the dead are stuck in the next tree, inside clothes that hang from burnt branches.
“They go all over the place,” Shteiner says. “I feel bad, but this is what you have to do.”
Kiryat Malachi’s deputy mayor, Shteiner also is a member of the city’s haredi Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch community, founded about 30 years earlier to reach out to a growing population of Russian immigrants here.