Netta Blatt-Shorek
Body of Netta Blatt-Shorek, 52, was found near a Beit Shemesh monastery in February. Photo by Reproduction
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Kristine Luken Photo by Reproduction

After hearing last month about the attack on a pair of female hikers in the hills of Jerusalem, the family of Netta Blatt-Sorek, who was murdered in a grove near Jerusalem last year, realized that the incident was perpetrated by the same killers.

"We said to ourselves, here it is happening again," explained Nachum Sawayd, Netta's cousin. "It's the same cell territory, the same area, it was obvious to us that this was a chain of murders, [carried out by] someone who lives in the area. We knew that in this case, someone survived- and were sure that this would provide a lead."

On Wednesday, the Jerusalem District Police released details regarding its arrest of a Palestinian cell that is suspected to have carried out the murder of Netta Blatt-Sorek and Kristine Luken, an American tourist who was murdered in the Jerusalem hills five weeks ago.

Blatt-Sorek, a 52-year-old resident of Zichron Yaakov, left her home in February for what was supposed to be a five day vacation to the monastery of Beit Jamal, which she had visited before. She was reported missing after failing to return from an afternoon walk from the monastery.

A day later, the monastery monks grew concerned, and they contacted her husband, Amotz Sorek. "She is not the type who wouldn't come back," Amotz explained to the monastery workers. The police were notified and began searching for Netta along with dozens of her friends.

When her body was found the police suspected that it was a suicide. Blatt Sorek's relatives found it difficult to fathom that such an active and vibrant woman, who had begun building her family's home in Zichron Yaakov, would put an end to her life.

"It was clear to us from the start that this was not a suicide. When a suicide bomber explodes themselves, it is much easier for security forces to know that this is a terrorist attack. However, when it is a random murder, in a remote place, it is difficult to imagine that it is, in fact, a terrorist attack," said Eran Blatt, Netta's brother. According to him, the family was notified already within the first month after Netta's demise that the investigation was being conducted for what was in all likelihood murder.

After the autopsy conducted at Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine, the suspicion arose that Blatt-Sorek's death was the result of a murder, but a gag order was placed on the case. In May, thanks to inquiries from Haaretz and others, the police partially lifted the order, and revealed that they were investigating Blatt-Sorek's murder.

Blatt-Sorek's husband was infuriated by the police's initial report, "Suffice it to say that the police report we received was unclear to say the least. All investigative staff had told me, personally, that this was a murder investigation for all intents and purposes." Amotz told Haaretz after the partial removal of the gag order.

When asked about the murder, Sawayd said, "it looked like A Clockwork Orange. From what I was told, the murder was very gruesome. They are animals, not people. The way I saw the body, with a rope around Netta's neck, you can tell that she was forced to the ground. It was with insane force. The rope was knotted, and you can tell that there were two people who pulled on each side, and the rope was deep into the flesh. It was very brutal and it lasted some time, roughly 20 minutes, if not more."

Now, since Netta's murder has been solved, relatives have been describing Blatt-Sorek's personality, that was far from the descriptions published in the media after the murder.

"It is important to us that the public know what she was really like; not strange, but very homey; a special, peaceful girl," said Sawayd. "She and Amotz lived together in harmony, with a lot of love.

Amotz and the couple's daughter, Noga, just moved to their home that Netta never had the chance to see. Roughly a month ago, the family was notified by the investigative police unit in Jerusalem that the case was closed and the cell was caught.

"All we have to say is that if this was done for nationalistic reasons, it was a huge mistake," said Eran. "They took an advocate of peace and murdered her. It is not worthwhile for them to kill people like her; it is people like her that they need if they wish to have peace with us."

"Knowing that the murderers have been found, almost a year later, will not bring us Netta back," Eran said.

"We are thankful that those that perpetrated this terrible act have been caught, so that no one else will be hurt," said David Filgy, a priest at the Messiah Church in Jerusalem, a good friend of Kristine Luken, whose murder was solved roughly a month ago, though confidential until Wednesday.

"This incident is very sad for us, however, we will continue to pray for the Luken family and for the speedy recovery of Kaye."

During the weeks that followed since the attack in the Jerusalem hills the Messiah Church and the CMJ (The Church's Ministry among Jewish people), where Luken worked, have received hundreds of letters and emails sending condolences on Luken's death.

Kristine Luken, 44, was born in Texas and spent the last years of her life living along in Nottingham, England. Luken was involved with the Church's Ministry among Jewish people, first in the U.S., then in England, where she became a ministry staffer. The church is active in Israel.

Luken first came to Israel in 2007 study tour called Walking with Jesus in his Jewish world, and returned after leaving her job to learn Hebrew.

On the CMJ American web site, Luken quoted inspirational poet Minnie Louise Haskins' words, "Go into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."