A Tel Aviv family court held its first hearing on Thursday in a custody battle over a six-year-old boy, the sole survivor of an Italian cable car disaster, who was taken to Israel by his grandfather without permission of family in Italy.
Family members based in the two countries dispute who should look after Eitan Biran, whose parents, younger brother and 11 other people all died when a gondola plunged to the ground in northern Italy in May.
The boy moved in with his paternal aunt, Aya Biran, in northern Italy after the accident. His maternal grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, picked him up on September 11 for a planned family trip but they never returned.
The family in Italy says Peleg drove with Eitan across the nearby border to Switzerland and flew on a private jet to Israel, where the grandfather and other family members live.
They describe the trip as a kidnapping, and have petitioned the Israeli family court for the child’s return. Peleg has said his actions were legal and in Eitan’s best interests.
“At this point I am worried. I want to see him home as soon as possible,” Aya, who came to Israel for the hearing, told reporters outside the court, which convened behind closed doors. “I am worried for Eitan.”
Peleg attended the hearing but did not speak to reporters.
In a joint statement, lawyers for both sides said they agreed that the child’s wellbeing was paramount.
Ronan Dlayahu, representing the family in Israel, called for the boy’s privacy to be respected. Shmuel Moran, representing the family in Italy, said the sides had agreed a temporary arrangement for visits pending a custody decision.
Prosecutors in the northern Italian city of Pavia opened a kidnapping investigation after Eitan was taken to Israel. Israeli police have questioned Peleg over the matter.
Peleg told Israel’s Channel 12 that he had given up on contesting custody in the Italian court system and said he expected the boy to understand once he got older.
“I believe that one day Eitan will grow up and say grandfather, you did everything for me, you saved me,” he said, breaking into tears. “And my daughter, who one day will meet me in heaven, will be proud of me that I saved her son.”
Magistrates are still investigating why the cable car, on a line connecting Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore to the nearby Mottarone mountain, plunged to the ground.