Boy who survived cable car crash in Italy to spend time with both sides of family

Sole survivor (6) to remain in Israel pending final ruling in bitter custody battle

Shmuel Peleg, left, the grandfather of Eitan Biran. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty

Shmuel Peleg, left, the grandfather of Eitan Biran. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty

 

An Israeli court has decided that a six-year-old boy at the centre of a bitter custody battle will spend time with both sides of the family until a final ruling is handed down on his future.

The child, Eitan Biran, was the sole survivor of a cable car crash in northern Italy in May. The crash caused the deaths of 14 people, including Eitan’s father, mother and his one-year-old brother and his great-grandparents.

He was illegally taken to Israel by his grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, earlier this month, and the boy’s paternal relatives are fighting to bring him back to Italy.

The boy’s relatives on both sides attended Thursday’s session at the Tel Aviv family court and agreed that while waiting for a decision, Eitan will spend time with both his paternal and his maternal families.

The next hearing will be held on October 8th. Meanwhile, Eitan will remain in Israel.

Aya Biran, a paternal aunt of Eitan Biran. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty
Aya Biran, a paternal aunt of Eitan Biran. Photograph: Jack Guez/AFP via Getty

Immediately after she learned that the child was in Israel, Biran’s aunt Aya filed a request in Italian court, where an investigation against Mr Peleg for suspected kidnapping was opened.

Mr Peleg’s lawyers in Italy have acknowledged that he had taken the boy to Israel, saying that he had “acted on impulse” as he was worried about his grandson’s health, and after being excluded from legal proceedings related to the boy’s custody.

Held ‘hostage’

Eitan and his parents were living in Italy at the time of the accident, and after his release from a Turin hospital following weeks of treatment, Italian juvenile court officials ruled that the child would live with his paternal aunt, an Israeli-born doctor, near Pavia in northern Italy.

Even though Italian authorities assigned Eitan’s custody to his aunt, disagreements emerged between Eitan’s paternal and maternal relatives, with the latter accusing the former of keeping the child “hostage”, and of disregarding his Israeli and Jewish identity. Though Eitan was raised in Italy, relatives in Israel claimed that the child’s Israeli parents had never wanted him to grow up there.

In an interview last week Mr Peleg claimed that he had done nothing wrong.

“Eitan is happy, embraced by his family and where he should be – at his home in Israel,” he said.

However, the aunt’s lawyers issued a statement expressing concern over Eitan’s psychological and emotional state in the period since he was kidnapped.

“Eitan’s real home is Italy,” the statement read. “We want him brought back by peaceful means and without delay so he can continue first grade, which he started a week before the abduction. His family, classmates, therapy team and the entire Jewish community are all awaiting young Eitan’s return to the normal, stable life that has been so important to him after the disaster.”