Hearing begins on Eitan Biran custody battle in Tel Aviv

The six-year-old Italian cable car crash survivor was illegally taken to Israel by his grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, earlier this month. The boy's paternal relatives are fighting to bring him back.

 Eitan Biran's aunt arrives at Tel Aviv court for custody hearing, September 23, 2021 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
Eitan Biran's aunt arrives at Tel Aviv court for custody hearing, September 23, 2021
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

The Tel Aviv Family Court on Thursday ordered joint custody for Eitan Biran between his Israeli-Italian aunt and his Israeli grandfather pending a trial on the issue which will open on October 8.

Six-year-old Eitan is the sole survivor of a cable car crash in Northern Italy in May in which 14 people were killed including Eitan’s father, Amit Biran; his mother, Tal Peleg; his one-year-old brother, Tom; and his great-grandparents, Barbara Cohen Konisky and Itshak Cohen.

The closed-door hearing on Thursday was procedural, to set the schedule for the trial and determine the custody arrangements during this interim period.

Italian authorities had previously assigned Eitan’s custody to his aunt, Aya, who is Amit’s sister and a doctor who lives with her family, including two daughters around Eitan’s age, in the suburbs of Pavia in northern Italy.

Eitan’s family had moved to Pavia five years ago where Amit was studying medicine.

The six-year-old was illegally taken to Israel by his grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, earlier this month and the boy’s relatives on his father’s side are fighting to return him to Italy.

 Eitan Biran's grandfather arrives at Tel Aviv court for custody hearing, September 23, 2021 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI) Eitan Biran's grandfather arrives at Tel Aviv court for custody hearing, September 23, 2021 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

Immediately after she learned that the child was in Israel, Aya petitioned an Italian court which opened an investigation against Peleg for suspected kidnapping.

Peleg’s lawyers in Italy have acknowledged that he had taken the boy to Israel saying he had “acted on impulse,” as he was worried about his grandson’s health after he was excluded from legal proceedings related to the boy’s custody.

Former Israeli government officials have been quoted as leaning toward recommending that the issue of permanent custody arrangements be decided in Italy.

This would be because there is precedent for empowering the country where the complex situation began, to determine the issue as the custody dispute and the abduction all began in Italy.

On the other hand, in typical cases under The Hague Convention for determining the custody of minors, the battle is usually between a child’s parents, and there is also often a clearer answer as to which country is considered home.

In this case, Eitan spent most of his life growing up in Italy, and there are indications that the parents planned to remain there, at least for a while.

Yet his father had brought the family to Italy in order to attend medical school, and there are also indications that the family planned to return to Israel and raise their children here.

Peleg had accused Aya of holding the child “hostage,” and of disregarding his Israeli and Jewish identity.

Meanwhile, Peleg hired high-profile communications strategist Ronen Tzur, who was an adviser to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and Aya hired Israel Bar Association president Avi Himi.

The trial in Israel could focus both on the issue of what legal precedents may come to bear in light of the unique situation, as well as whether Eitan, culturally and linguistically, would find it more natural to spend the rest of his childhood growing up in Italy rather than Israel.

In similar cases, litigation by each side of the family often tries to keep the trial in the country where they live, reasoning that the judge of the local country is more likely to sympathize with its own citizens and with raising the child locally, as opposed to sending the child to be raised in a foreign country.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.