A Tel Aviv court ruled Monday that a boy whose parents died in an Italian cable car crash be returned to his family in Italy, after his grandfather was accused of illegally bringing him to Israel.
The battle for custody of Eitan Biran, the sole survivor of the May accident that killed 14 people, including his parents, younger brother and great-grandparents, has captured headlines since his maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, brought him to Israel on a private jet last month.
Peleg, who insisted that Biran’s late parents wanted him raised in Israel, became the subject of a kidnapping probe by Italian prosecutors after he failed to return the 6-year-old boy to his paternal aunt, Aya Biran, who lives in northern Italy.
A statement from the Tel Aviv family court where Aya Biran had filed a complaint said judges “did not accept the grandfather’s claim that the aunt has no custody rights.”
It recognized Biran as a legitimate guardian based on a ruling by an Italian court and said Peleg had “unlawfully” removed the boy from his aunt’s care.
The court “ordered the return of the minor to his usual place of residence in Italy,” the country where he had been living since he was just a month old, and noted that it is there that the boy’s future and well-being will be decided. In addition, Peleg was ordered to pay NIS 70,000 ($21,835) in court expenses.
Judge Iris Ilotovich-Segal urged the two sides of the family to mend their differences for Eitan’s sake.
“At the stage we are at, it is of paramount importance to focus on the minor’s medical and emotional condition and give him the support, care and embrace he needs due to the tragedy that befell him and his family,” Ilotovich-Segal said. “Hope has not yet been lost in mending the rupture of the families, which was torn apart all at once in the shadow of the tragedy.”
The Biran family’s team of attorneys said in a statement they while they welcome the court decision they recognize “that in this affair there are no victors or defeated, winners or losers, there is only Eitan.”
They said Eitan’s speedy return to his life in Italy is best for him.
Eitan’s maternal grandmother, Eti Peleg, speaking to Hebrew media from her Tel Aviv home, insisted the child should remain in Israel. “I am his grandmother,” she repeatedly said.
“He is an Israeli child, not Italian,” Peleg said in an interview with Channel 13 News, adding that Eitan has a large extended family in Israel.
“It is very difficult for him,” she said of her grandson.
“The ongoing legal proceeding don’t interest us,” Peleg said. “We are concerned with Eitan’s physical and mental welfare.”
“It seems that the legal system has forgotten one small detail, we are speaking about a small boy… who lost his parents, who lost his brother,” she said. She urged that authorities ask Eitan what he wants, though she stressed that her grandson should remain in Israel.
Speaking to Channel 12 News, Peleg said “There are no words to describe the scale of the disaster.”
“This is my grandchild. He is the last remnant of my daughter,” she said.
“I don’t treat Eitan as an object. He is a boy with a soul and desires who knows what he wants,” she added.
Peleg declined to say if the family would appeal the court decision, referring media instead to the family’s legal counsel.
A statement on behalf of the Peleg family said: “The family is determined to continue to fight in all possible ways, for the good of Eitan, his well-being and his right to grow in Israel as his parents wished.”
At the time of the crash, Eitan and his parents, Amit Biran and Tal Peleg, had been living in Italy, where Amit Biran was studying medicine, together with their other child, Tom.
Shmulik Peleg was questioned by Israeli police last month in connection with the kidnapping allegation, before being conditionally released.
Relatives in Italy say Eitan Biran was taken without their knowledge while the relatives in Israel insist they were acting in his best interest and deny breaking the law.
Eti Peleg told Channel 13 it was her husband’s idea and she only found out about it a few days after the fact.
“I don’t know if made a mistake or didn’t make a mistake. I only know that Eitan’s place is in Israel,” she said.
According to the station Italian police, in cooperation with their Israeli peers, are leading an investigation into Eitan’s removal to Israel as a possible kidnapping.