Cable car survivor must be returned to family in Italy, Israel court rules

Aya Biran , a paternal aunt of Eitan Biran who was the sole survivor of a deadly cable car crash in Italy, arrives at Tel Aviv’s Justice Court on October 10, 2021
Aya Biran , a paternal aunt of Eitan Biran who was the sole survivor of a deadly cable car crash in Italy, arrives at Tel Aviv’s Justice Court on October 10, 2021. Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP
An Israeli court ruled Monday that a boy whose parents died in an Italian cable car crash be returned to 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, has captured headlines since his maternal grandfather, Shmulik Peleg, brought him to Israel on a private jet last month.

The child lost his parents, younger brother and great-grandparents in the May 23 accident near the top of the Mottarone mountain in the northwestern Piedmont region, where the family was out on a Sunday excursion to the scenic spot served by the cable car.

The cable car’s pull cable snapped just before it reached destination. It then flew backwards, dislodging itself from a second, supporting cable, and crashed to the ground.

Investigations later revealed that emergency brakes that could have stopped the car on its supporting cable, avoiding the tragedy, had been deliberately deactivated to avoid delays following a technical malfunction.

Three individuals responsible for the cable car’s management were subsequently arrested.

The wreckage of a cable car that crashed on the slopes of the Mottarone peak above Stresa, Piedmont on May 23, 2021, killing 14.

The wreckage of a cable car that crashed on the slopes of the Mottarone peak above Stresa, Piedmont on May 23, 2021, killing 14. MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP.

Peleg has insisted that he drove Eitan from Italy to Switzerland before jetting him back to Israel – instead of returning him paternal aunt Aya Biran, who lives in northern Italy – because Eitan’s late parents wanted him to be raised in the Jewish state.

But Peleg has become the subject kidnapping probe by Italian prosecutors and Israeli police questioned him over those allegations last month.

A statement Monday from the Tel Aviv 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 recognised an Italian judgement that established Biran as a legitimate guardian 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 court also found that “a connection” between the surviving members of the Italy- and Israel-based relatives was in Eitan’s “best interests”.

Peleg was also ordered to pay Biran’s legal fees, amounting to 70,000 shekels ($22,000).

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Shmuel Peleg, the grandfather of Eitan Biran, hugs a relative outside the Justice Court in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on October 8, 2021.

Shmuel Peleg, the grandfather of Eitan Biran, hugs a relative outside the Justice Court in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on October 8, 2021. Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP

The case has stirred emotions in Israel, and throngs of journalists had surrounded the Tel Aviv court for hearings last month, with some pro-Peleg protesters insisting it was wrong to send a Jewish child out of Israel.

Before judges ordered the sides to stop talking to the media, Peleg told Israel’s Channel 12 in September that his grandson was “in the place where he is supposed to be, in his home, in Israel.”

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.

Eitan suffered severe chest and abdominal injuries and spent a week in intensive care after the May accident that occurred when a cable snapped on the aerial tram bringing weekend visitors to the top of the Piedmont region’s Mottarone mountain.

The accident was one of Italy’s worst in over two decades.   


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