Israel-based family fighting to adopt boy who survived Italy cable car crash

Aunt opens legal proceedings for custody of Eitan Biran, whose family was killed in May tragedy, claiming relatives in Italy are strangers who ‘kidnapped’ him

The Biran family, with Eitan on the right. (Courtesy)
The Biran family, with Eitan on the right. (Courtesy)

A young Israeli boy, who was the sole survivor after a cable car his family was riding in plunged into an Italian mountainside in May, is now at the center of a custody battle between two of his aunts.

Gali Peleg said Wednesday that she had initiated legal proceedings to adopt her nephew Eitan Biran, 5, who has been living with an aunt from the other side of his family in Italy since being released from a Turin hospital in June.

Fourteen people, including Eitan’s father Amit Biran, 30, mother Tal Peleg-Biran, 26, 2-year-old brother Tom, and great-grandparents Barbara and Yitzhak Cohen of Tel Aviv, 71 and 81, respectively, were killed in the May 24 accident after a cable snapped on the aerial tram bringing weekend visitors to the top of the Piedmont region’s Mottarone Mountain. All five were buried in Israel a few days later.

Peleg, the sister of Tal Peleg-Biran, accused Aya Biran-Nirko, the Italy-based sister of Amit Biran caring for Eitan, of kidnapping the boy and preventing him from having a normal childhood.

“He was abducted by relatives who don’t know him at all. [Biran-Nirko] was not close to him in any way,” she said at a press conference alongside her husband and an attorney. “The family there won’t take him to a park or out to eat, things we have done so he feels he has a family.”

She said short visits with the boy mandated by an Italian court had left him feeling as if he had done something wrong and they did not want him.

Rescuers work by the wreckage of a cable car after it collapsed near the summit of the Stresa-Mottarone line in the Piedmont region, northern Italy, May 23, 2022. (Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico Piemontese via AP)

“In a few years he’ll look back and see where he grew up and who his parents were and it’s important to me that he sees that we were always there for him. He already lost one family and does not need to lose another,” she said.

Though Eitan was raised in Italy, Peleg’s husband, Ron Peri, claimed that his Israeli parents had never wanted him to grow up there and preferred he receive a Jewish education in Israel.

He claimed that the family had only learned of Biran-Nirko’s existence recently and hinted that money could have been a motivating factor in her “appearing out of nowhere.”

Biran-Nirko, a doctor based in Italy and mother of two, did not immediately respond to Peleg’s claims. According to a blog she maintained until recently, she was raised in Israel and moved to Italy to learn medicine, staying there to work as a prison physician and addiction specialist in the Lombardy region.

People stand in front of a newsstand displaying a daily headline reading in Italian: ‘Mottarone tragedy with 14 dead,’ in Stresa, northern Italy, Monday, May 24, 2021. (AP/Antonio Calanni)

In June, Marcella Severino, the mayor of the town of Stresa where the cable car started out, told an Italian newspaper that Biran-Nirko was “a constant presence in the life of the child, he’s in good hands.”

Eitan suffered severe trauma in the crash and Biran-Nirko took on the task of dealing with the hospital system and his recovery, though Peri said the arrangement was meant to be temporary.

Ariel Di Porto, the chief rabbi of Turin, told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper on Wednesday that Eitan was continuing to recover from his injuries.

He made the comments at a ceremony held for riders of the Giro D’Italia bike race to present him with a check for 30,000 euros and a jersey, according to the paper. The race’s 19th stage had originally been slated to traverse the mountain where the crash happened, but was moved out of respect for the victims, with riders promising to donate winnings from the stage to Eitan.

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