Questions still swirl over motive for brutal Jordan Valley murder
Days after retired IDF officer Sraya Ofer was beaten to death at his home, investigators have not yet ruled out a criminal motive • Housing minister: Peace talks yield only victims • Victim's wife: Everyone loved him.
Efrat Forsher, Danny Brenner, Gideon Allon, Daniel Siryoti, Yori Yalon and Lilach Shoval
IDF Col. (ret.) Srayia Ofer
Photo credit: JINI
The Shin Bet security agency, together with the Israel Defense Forces and the Judea and Samaria police, have arrested five suspects in connection with the murder of Sraya Ofer, who was beaten to death with an axe and metal poles at his home in the Jordan Valley early Friday.
The initial investigation has not yet determined whether the attack was nationalist or criminal, but reports emerged Sunday that pointed to a criminally motivated attack, a botched robbery, as well as huge financial debts accrued by the deceased.
The investigation has revealed that shortly after midnight, several Palestinians managed to infiltrate the Jewish Brosh Habika vacation village in the northern Jordan Valley, where the victim and his wife were staying.
The site had originally served as a Jordanian military base, but when the area was conquered by Israel in 1967 it was transformed into a Nahal outpost. Over the years, several attempts have been made to populate the region, situated strategically on Route 90, close to the Shadmot Mehola settlement, but all efforts failed. In the late 1990s, Ofer built the vacation village on the site hoping to turn it into a tourist attraction, but it did not thrive financially, forcing him to shutter the facility several times. Several years ago, Ofer reopened the village and lived on the site on and off, with his second wife Monique.
On the night of the attack, Ofer and his wife heard suspicious noises coming from the yard. Sraya, a retired IDF officer with an extensive military career in commando units, went out to the yard without his gun, which he left on a dresser inside. He was then attacked by several assailants armed with axes and crow bars, and bludgeoned to death. Monique, who was lightly injured in the attack, managed to escape to the main road and call for help.
Security forces rushed to the area shortly after the incident. Roadblocks were set up, the area was combed and evidence was gathered. IDF troops raided nearby villages to locate suspects. Ultimately, five suspects were taken into custody and questioned by the Shin Bet.
Ofer had five children with his first wife.
"Halt the peace talks with the Palestinians"
"We are making every effort to understand the incident and apprehend those responsible," IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said on Saturday during a meeting with Druze community leaders.
President Shimon Peres remarked that "no one will rest until these murderers are detected and the bigger picture comes together -- everything that happened."
"I would like to extend my condolences to the family and express my grief over the loss of a high-ranking IDF officer, who served his people and his country admirably," the president said.
Over the weekend, Israeli politicians, who did not wait for confirmation as to the nature and motives of the attack, vowed that the culprits would be caught and punished.
Housing Minister Uri Ariel (Habayit Hayehudi), who was personally acquainted with the victim (affectionately known as "little Yaya"), had even met with him recently. "This was yet another vile, murderous terror attack that proves once again that the so-called peace talks yield only peace victims," he said, demanding that the prime minister halt peace talks with the Palestinians immediately. "It yields nothing but the shedding of Jewish blood," he said.
MK Omer Bar-Lev (Labor) said that he too had known the victim personally from their service together in the IDF. "This was a despicable murder and I am convinced that the IDF and the security forces will get their hands on the perpetrators," Bar-Lev said over the weekend. "I urge the people of [Israel's] right wing to behave respectfully and refrain from taking advantage of this murder for political purposes, at least until after the funeral."
As of Saturday night, there was no official Palestinian response to the attack. A senior Palestinian official told Israel Hayom however that the recent spike in violent nationalistically motivated incidents across Judea and Samaria was a direct result of failure to coordinate between Israeli and Palestinian security forces in the area. "The Israeli army does as it pleases in territories that are supposed to be under Palestinian control," the source said.
"He was an amazing man"
Surrounded by her children at the hospital where she was being treated for her own injuries, Monique described her late husband as an "amazing man who was overcome by two bastards."
Monique, who had been injured in her leg while trying to flee the assailants, arrived at the emergency room in Afula at around 3 a.m., unaware that her husband had been killed. It was only after she received initial care that she was given the terrible news.
"Is there anyone who didn't know Yaya Ofer?" she asked, using Sraya's nickname. "He was a military man for many years. He commanded over the Gaza Strip, Givati [an infantry brigade], Shaldag [an air force commando unit]. He was an amazing man, amazing father, amazing grandfather, amazing husband, I have no words. ..."
"Everybody loved him and felt close to him," she went on to say. "How could they do this to Yaya? They caught him by surprise."
"I cannot wrap my head around this. It isn't happening. We lived in the Jordan Valley. We were surrounded by other communities. This was a community of a handful of people, just like there are in other places. After losing such a dear man, we, as a country, need to do the right thing and do everything in our power so that things get better and people can live in peace and quiet," she said.
She said that she did not plan to return to the Jordan Valley or to Brosh Habika. The fact that suspects had been arrested did not interest her. "I am not thinking about it right now, how many people were arrested or who. I am thinking about entirely different things -- the sadness inside me. I am not processing this at all."