TV: Israel may have to return ‘kidnapped’ boy who survived Italy cable car crash

Government legal opinion says the smuggling of Eitan Biran into Israel violates law; six-year-old will likely be sent back to legal guardian if sides don’t reach agreement

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

Israel will likely return a 6-year-old Israeli boy whose family was killed in a cable car crash in Italy to his legal guardian in the European country after he was smuggled into Israel by his grandfather amid an escalating guardianship battle.

A governmental legal opinion issued Sunday by experts in the Foreign and Justice Ministries found that bringing Eitan Biran to Israel, against the wishes of his legal guardian, likely constitutes a kidnapping, Channel 12 news reported.

The document said the move violated the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a law the country adopted in 1991,  According to the law, Israel must do everything in its power to return the boy to his legal guardian in Italy as soon as possible.

Eitan’s current legal guardian, Aya Biran-Nirko, the Italy-based sister of the child’s late father, filed a complaint with the Italian police claiming that he was abducted by his maternal grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, on Saturday.

The boy’s other aunt denied that the child had been abducted.

“We did not kidnap Eitan and we will not use that word,” said Gali Peleg, the boy’s maternal aunt, in an interview with Radio103FM. “We brought Eitan back home. We had to do it after we received no information on his health or mental condition. If the judge had not scheduled meetings [with the child], we would not have seen 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, Sunday, May 23, 2021. (Italian Vigili del Fuoco Firefighters via AP)

Last month, Peleg said that she had initiated legal proceedings to adopt her nephew.

The legal opinion issued Sunday stated that a court in Italy would ultimately decide on the boy’s guardianship, and if no agreement between the two sides of the family is reached, Israel will have to act to return him to the Italian authorities, Channel 12 said.

Fourteen people, including Eitan’s father, Amit Biran, 30; his mother Tal Peleg-Biran, 26; 2-year-old brother Tom; and his great-grandparents from Tel Aviv, Barbara, 71, and Yitzhak Cohen, 81, 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.

Eitan left his house in Fabia, northern Italy, with his grandfather on Saturday morning but did not return by early evening as had been agreed, according to reports. Biran-Nirko repeatedly tried to reach Peleg until she received a message from him saying, “Eitan has returned home.”

Biran-Nirko reportedly also received a message from the Pelegs’ lawyer confirming that Eitan had arrived in Israel.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the child’s travel to Israel was made possible because the Peleg family had held onto his Israeli passport, contrary to an Italian judge’s order.

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, as seen from the aerial photograph, May 23, 2021. (Vigili del Fuoco Firefighters via AP)

A family friend told Channel 12 news on Sunday that the Biran family was working with the Italian authorities to return Eitan to the country.

Peleg in August accused Biran-Nirko of kidnapping the boy and preventing him from having a “normal childhood.” 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 receives a Jewish education in Israel.

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.

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