Families of Cable Car Crash Survivor Eitan Biran Wrapped in Bitter Custody Battle

Photo: (Photo : JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

The international custody battle involving a 6-year-old boy from Israel, the only cable car crash survivor of an accident in Italy in May 2021, began in a family court in Tel Aviv.

Eitan Biran lost his parents, 2-year-old brother, and great-grandparents in the tragic cable car crash, which claimed 14 victims. His extended relatives on both sides are now involved in a bitter international court battle after allegations surfaced that Eitan was whisked away to Israel without permission from his paternal aunt in Italy.

Aya Biran-Nirko, now an Italian resident, filed a request with the local courts for Eitan's return, which has been challenged by Shmulik Peleg, the boy's maternal grandfather, in Israel. Gali Peleg, Eitan's maternal aunt, and Shmulik's other daughter also seek custody of the child in the Middle Eastern country.

In an interview with the New York Times, Biran-Nirko said that his nephew should stay with her as Italy has been his home since he was 2-months-old. However, Shmulik noted that the boy's parents had intentions to come back to Israel, Eitan's birthplace, so he should be with his Israeli family.

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Abduction Allegations Against Grandfather

After the accident, the juvenile courts ruled that Eitan may stay with her aunt in Italy since she's a doctor. Shmulik then temporarily moved to Israel so he could visit his grandson.

On September 13, however, he drove with the boy from Italy to Switzerland to fly him back to his country, bringing along Eitan's Israeli passport. However, upon arriving in Israel, Shmulik was questioned by the police for allegations of kidnapping and was put under house arrest.

Biran-Nirko claimed that his grandfather abducted the boy. If guilty, Shmulik could be in prison for 15 years. The grandfather claimed in the local press that they left Italy in a "totally legal way."

Eitan's aunt told New York Times that Shmulik disrupted her nephew's life and risked his physical and psychological care. Months after the accident, Eitan still needs to use a wheelchair and walker.

Shmulik, on the other hand, has appealed Biran-Nirko's appointment as Eitan's guardian for a third time in the Italian courts, which has left him frustrated with the Italian justice system. The grandfather said that Eitan has been doing well under his care.

Top Guns for the Legal Battle

Both families have hired the best lawyers for this custody battle. Shmulik has Ronen Tzu, whose clients include Israel's former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Biran-Nirko has hired Avi Himi, who is the current Israel Bar Association president.

According to the Times of Israel, Biran-Nirko's legal team will highlight Shmulik's history of domestic violence and emphasize how he abducted his grandson. The other family's side will argue that Eitan's family had been planning to move back to Israel, and they have been searching for a school for the boy. They will defend the abduction accusations since Eitan frequently visits Israel while temporarily living in Italy. They will also point out the "flawed and unfair" appointment of Biran-Nirko as the main guardian.

The latest court hearing has both families agreeing that Eitan should alternate his stay between the two families while the case is still in court. They are expected to return for another hearing on October 8.

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