Family of Northern Irish Biker Who Disappeared in Israel Rule Out Jerusalem Syndrome

Uncle and brother of Oliver McAfee, 29, who went missing last November, suspect he may have been the victim of foul play

The McAfee family hold a picture of their missing relative, whose disappearance they say has nothing to do with his mental health.
Judy Maltz

Relatives of a Northern Irish tourist who went missing in Israel last November said Wednesday they suspect he may have been the victim of foul play.

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv, the brother and uncle of Oliver McAfee, 29, ruled out speculation that he was suffering from religious delusions known as Jerusalem syndrome.

“It doesn’t sit with us at all,” said Oliver’s uncle, Clive McAfee.

Asked what he thought may have happened to his younger brother, Matthew McAfee said: “I don’t want to say we believe this or think that, but we believe that whatever has happened, happened suddenly. There hasn’t been a gradual deterioration of his mental state.”

Oliver McAfee arrived in Israel from Mexico on October 25, with a return flight booked to England, where he lives, for December 1. His whereabouts have been unknown since November 19, when he took his last recorded photograph – of graffiti on a bus stop at the Tsihor junction in the Negev desert, southern Israel. Most of his belongings were later found near the city of Mitzpeh Ramon, about 60 kilometers (35 miles) north.

Last summer, McAfee left his job as a landscape gardener to travel overseas. After biking through Europe, his relatives said, he headed out to Mexico, where he volunteered in housing projects for needy families.

After landing in Israel, he spent the next three weeks touring the country on his bike. Beginning in the West Bank, he traveled north to the Galilee and the Golan Heights, before making his way down to Jerusalem. From Jerusalem, he headed further south to the Negev desert, where his trail was lost.

Police and search-and-rescue volunteers later discovered that McAfee had left in the desert a trail of torn pages from the Bible, held down with rocks, and a structure resembling a chapel, which he built on top of a ridge.

“He was a practicing Christian,” said his uncle, “but this is not connected to Jerusalem syndrome – it’s him expressing himself.”

Clive and Matthew McAfee arrived in Israel last Friday and have since met with police and search-and-rescue volunteers familiar with the case. The McAfees said they were given access to hundreds of pages of journal entries, as well as thousands of photographs taken by Oliver during his trip around Israel.

“He kept a detailed journal of where he’s been, what he’s done and whom he’s met,” said Matthew. “For Oliver, this was a normal trip.”

In the journal entries, Matthew added, his brother indicated that he had every intention of returning to England as planned. From the journals, they also learned that Oliver suffered a minor accident on his bike not long before he disappeared, which incapacitated him for several days.

“We came here with the impression that Oliver was in a lot of trouble throughout this trip, and we’re extremely confident now that he was not – at least not until November 19,” said Matthew, who described his brother’s travels through Israel as “the perfect trip.”

His relatives said Oliver had been very close to his mother, who died suddenly a year ago.

Asked if they held out any hope that Oliver might still be alive, his brother, holding back tears, said: “No body has been found, so there’s still hope that he’s alive. This is hard to say, but for us the best case scenario is that he will be found alive, and the worst case scenario is that we will never know.”

Urging anyone with information about Oliver’s whereabouts to contact them, the McAfees said they were “blown away” by the time and effort invested in the case by volunteer search-and-rescue crews in Israel.