Child Who Survived Gondola Crash Should Live in Italy, Israel Court Rules

TEL AVIV — An Israeli family court ruled Monday that the 6-year-old survivor of an Italian cable car crash should live with his paternal aunt in Italy, not with the maternal grandfather who had spirited him off to Israel in what the court said was a violation of international law.

The boy, Eitan Biran, was the sole survivor when a cable snapped on a gondola traveling up a nearly 5,000-foot mountain in northern Italy in May. He was born in Israel but had been living in Italy with his parents, who were killed in the crash.

The custody dispute between his aunt, Aya Biran, and his grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, has divided the family and drawn international attention.

The court accepted Ms. Biran’s claim that she was the child’s legal guardian, properly appointed by an Italian court, and it bluntly rejected all of Mr. Peleg’s arguments.

Judge Iris Ilotovich-Segal further accused Mr. Peleg of smuggling the child to Israel in violation of the Hague Convention on abducted minors, and ordered him to pay Ms. Biran’s legal expenses.

“I am very excited and very happy about the decision, which came after very difficult months, both the disaster and the legal battle I had to wage,” Ms. Biran said in a phone interview. “The most important thing is to get Eitan back home as soon as possible — to his rehabilitation, and his school, and his friends, and the room he knows, and his cat Oliver — and try to get him back on track as quickly as possible under the circumstances.”

Her lawyer, Shmuel Moran, said, “There are no winners in the legal process here, except for one winner, Eitan, who needs to return home as soon as possible.”

“There are no winners in the legal process here, except for one winner, Eitan,” said Shmuel Moran, center, the lawyer for Ms. Biran, in Tel Aviv on Monday.Credit…Sebastian Scheiner/Associated Press

The Peleg family is considering appealing the decision.

“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 up in Israel as his parents desired,” a family spokesman said in a statement.

The court’s ruling dealt only with the circumstances of Eitan’s arrival in Israel, not his “well-being and future,” the Peleg family statement said.

Judge Ilotovich-Segal ordered a seven-day delay in the implementation of her decision to allow the defendants to appeal to the district court.

An Italian court in Turin had appointed Ms. Biran as the boy’s legal guardian shortly after the accident, and he had been living with her in a small town near Pavia, Italy.

Mr. Peleg visited the boy in Italy last month and took him out shopping with Ms. Biran’s consent.

Instead of returning Eitan in time for dinner, as promised, Mr. Peleg, drove the boy across the border to Switzerland and from there took a private plane to Israel.

Mr. Peleg argued that Eitan’s parents, who had moved to Italy for his father to study medicine, always intended to return to Israel.

Judge Ilotovich-Segal dismissed that argument, as well as Mr. Peleg’s concern that Eitan would be damaged by returning him to Italy.

The Pelegs have challenged Ms. Biran’s guardianship in courts in Milan and Pavia, which are scheduled to hold hearings in November and December.

Shmuel Peleg, Eitan’s grandfather, said his parents had intended to return to Israel.Credit…Tsafrir Abayov/Associated Press

Mario Venditti, the Pavia prosecutor who is investigating whether Mr. Peleg broke Italian law when he took Eitan to Israel, declined to comment.

At the end of her verdict, Judge Ilotovich-Segal called on both side to try to reach an amicable arrangement for Eitan’s sake, saying that his well-being required the support of and connection with both families.

“Such a connection that will allow him to feel a sense of belonging and a place to continue the legacy of the two families and to commemorate the memory of his immediate family,” she wrote.

The circumstances that led to the verdict cannot be changed, the judge wrote, “however, there is always a choice regarding actions to be taken later.”

“Hope has not yet been lost to mend the rift of the families,” she said.

Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting from Rome.

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