Biran family, with Eitan on the right
Biran family, with Eitan on the right Facebook

Eitan Biran, the sole survivor of the Italian cable car accident that claimed the lives of 14 people including both his parents and his younger brother, is now at the center of a custody dispute, with his relatives in Italy pitted against others in Israel. On Saturday, his Italian relatives reported that his grandfather had kidnapped Eitan after taking him out for a few hours; later, it emerged that Eitan had been flown back to Israel without the permission of his Italian relatives.

Gali Peleg, Eitan’s aunt, objected to the wording of accounts that accused her branch of the family of “kidnapping” her nephew.

“We did not kidnap Eitan,” she told Radio 103FM. “No one should be using such a word. All we did was return him home – and we were forced to do that, because we had no other way of ensuring his physical and emotional health. They wouldn’t let us see him – well, they did let us meet him, but only in a very restricted manner, on a judge’s order, and if she hadn’t ordered them to let us see him, we wouldn’t have been able to see him at all; they wouldn’t have let us. And they kept every single bit of information about him from us.

“We brought Eitan back to his home, as his parents would have wanted,” she added. “My sister and her husband only traveled to Italy for their studies and they were planning to return this year. It was only because of the coronavirus that they postponed their return. Half a year ago they were in Israel for a few months and we spoke to them about returning home. Amit was registered to begin studying at Ariel University, and they had won a subsidized apartment in the state lottery and were weighing their options.

“All we are thinking about is what’s best for Eitan – what’s best for him physically as well as emotionally,” his aunt continued. “When we went to visit him [in Italy, after the tragedy], we could see that he wasn’t in a good place emotionally, and he cried when we left. Why should a six-year-old boy who has been through such a terrible tragedy be barred from seeing his relatives?”

Gali and her Israeli family are now involved in a custody battle over Eitan, with the family of Eitan’s father, Amit, claiming the right to keep Eitan with them in Italy.

“Aya, Amit’s sister, has legal guardianship over Eitan, even though legally, we should have been appointed his guardians,” says Gali. “Aya was somewhat close to my sister, but that doesn’t mean that she had a relationship with Eitan – in fact he was a lot closer to us. My sister was the person I was closest to in the world. We held video calls every single day, and I never heard from her that she talked to Aya, even though they lived relatively close to one another, and even though her daughter learned in the same preschool as Eitan. I never heard about her picking Eitan up from preschool, and they don’t have a single photo together.”

Asked how Eitan reacted when he arrived back in Israel, Gali said, “He screamed with excitement when he saw us, and said that finally, he was back in Israel. He’s still so excited, saying all the time that now he’s back with his family, and he hugs everyone and we hug him. The color has come back to his face; he’s in tenth heaven. You have to realize – this is a child whose parents were buried in Israel, and now he’s with relatives he knows, so it makes sense for him to react this way.

“Everything we did, we did for his benefit,” Gali insists. “People forget that we should be asking Eitan himself what he wants. It doesn’t make sense that other people are making decisions for him, and who’s going to take responsibility for him? As for me, as his aunt, I have to look him in the eye and allow his grandparents to be wiped out of his life? We wanted to come to an agreement with Aya and be a single family,” she concluded. “But it just didn’t happen.”