One person remains missing from Oct. 7. Her family has accepted she’s gone

After initially being considered dead, lack of conclusive evidence about fate of Bilha Yinon, 76, has IDF considering every option, though her daughters don’t think she’s a hostage

Bilha and Yakov Yinon. (Courtesy)
Bilha and Yakov Yinon. (Courtesy)

Bilha Yinon, a 76-year-old who lived with her husband Yakov in Moshav Netiv Ha’asara, was last heard from at 8 a.m. on October 7.

Her house was burned down by Hamas terrorists who infiltrated the community via paragliders amid their murderous onslaught against southern Israel. She was initially considered dead along with her husband, but a lack of DNA evidence led the IDF to retract that conclusion.

“They still haven’t found her,” the Yinons’ daughter, Maayan, told Channel 12 news in an interview aired Saturday evening. “They can’t conclusively identify. They can’t recover DNA.”

During the October 7 massacre, which saw Hamas terrorists kill some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnap 253, an estimated 35 Hamas operatives entered Netiv Ha’asara — a community that sits 100 meters from the border with Gaza — and killed 22 people.

“Dad sent us a WhatsApp message at 7:30 a.m. that they’re sitting in the safe room, the house is locked, and they’re hearing a lot of shooting and rockets,” Maayan recalled in the interview. “By 7:45 a.m. they were already disconnected and not answering. The house got a direct hit and was on fire within minutes. This was a house built with light materials like plaster and plywood.”

“I said that my parents didn’t survive this event,” the Yinons’ other daughter, Mor, told Channel 12. “By 10 a.m., I wrote my cousins that they should prepare themselves for a very very difficult day.”

The daughters of Bilha and Yakov Yinon, Mor (right) and Maayan (center), and the couple’s grandson, Eitan, sitting outside the remains of the Yinon home that was burnt down on October 7, 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot used in accordance with article 27a of the Copyright Law.)

The Yinons’ grandson, Eitan, told Channel 12 that he remains hopeful about the fate of his grandmother. “My head understands that she is dead, but my heart tells me that maybe she is somehow kidnapped, maybe something did happen.”

“I’m trying to not build up expectations, and think about ‘what if,'” he added. “But I do in a way need that identification.”

The daughters, however, are convinced of their mother’s fate. Between the house being burnt down and conversations with neighbors who saw the terrorists, the family decided to sit shiva – the traditional seven-day mourning period for Jews – without holding a funeral. “Her place is with dad. They left this world together.”

The daughters told Channel 12 that they are not entertaining the possibility that Bilha was taken hostage because no other kidnappings were reported in Netiv Ha’asara on October 7.

“There’s a disagreement between the fire services – who say that the fire was at a very high temperature and that it’s certainly possible that DNA can’t be recovered – and the [forensic scientists] who say that that can’t be, something can always be recovered,” Mor said.

Lt. Col. Dana Nof, an IDF reserve officer responsible for maintaining contact with the Yinon family, is not willing to reach a verdict. “This is a mystery that we’re trying to solve. It’s not a mystery that will just remain a mystery. We’re trying to conclude whether Bilha is alive or not,” she told Channel 12.

“At the beginning of the war, IDF representatives told the Yinon family that they found remains in the house, including a woman’s DNA, but they retracted that statement later on,” she explained. “The possibility that she’s kidnapped is being checked, it’s possible. I can’t tell you definitively; we don’t have intelligence that she’s kidnapped in Gaza, but it wouldn’t be outrageous,” Nof said.

“We’re doing everything we can to give absolutely certain answers,” she added. “But we’re still not there.”

Members of the media tour the devastated Moshav Netiv Ha’asara in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on November 17, 2023. (RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

Bilha and Yakov requested in their will that their bodies be cremated and spread out over the grounds of Netiv Ha’asara because they did not want their bodies to take up land. The will, however, cannot be executed until the daughters are given a final answer from the government regarding the fate of Bilha.

“A district court appointed me to be the temporary estate manager for my mom,” Mor told Channel 12. “I am conducting transactions in my mom’s bank account on her behalf. These things are a bit absurd and emotionally difficult. It feels like some kind of pretend game to me.”

Maayan told Channel 12 that Bilha was a regular at anti-judicial overhaul protests that occurred throughout 2023 until October 7, and showed a suitcase Bilha would take with her that had “Benjamin Netanyahu, take this and leave” written on it.

Bilha Yinon is currently the only person considered officially “missing” by the State of Israel following the October 7 attack, with an additional 130 people believed to be held hostage in Gaza, including the bodies of 31 people who the IDF has confirmed were killed before or after they were kidnapped.

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