Italian FM says Rome will act, after Eitan, 6, was brought to Tel Aviv illegally by his grandfather, who is now being investigated for kidnapping.

 A crashed cable car is seen after it collapsed in Stresa, near Lake Maggiore, Italy May 23, 2021. (photo credit: ALPINE RESCUE SERVICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
A crashed cable car is seen after it collapsed in Stresa, near Lake Maggiore, Italy May 23, 2021. (photo credit: ALPINE RESCUE SERVICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)


Is the abduction of a six-year-old boy a new chapter of the decades-old divide between Ashkenazi and Sephardi Israelis?

Eitan Biran was the sole survivor in an Italian cable-car crash in May. Some 14 people died, including the boy’s father, Amit Biran, his mother, Tal Peleg, his one-year-old brother, Tom, and his maternal great-grandparents Barbara Cohen Konisky and Itshak Cohen.

After the tragedy, the Italian authorities assigned Eitan’s custody to his Aunt Aya. She is Amit’s sister and is a doctor who lives with her family, including two daughters around Eitan’s age, in the surroundings of Pavia, the city where the Biran family had moved more than five years earlier to allow Amit to study medicine at the local university.

In recent months, however, harsh controversies have emerged between Eitan’s paternal and maternal relatives, with the latter accusing the former of keeping the child “hostage” and of disregarding his Israeli and Jewish identity.

In a dramatic development on Saturday, Eitan was picked up at his Pavia home by his maternal grandfather Shmuel Peleg for a routine visit. It later emerged that the boy had been illegally brought to Israel on a private flight.

According to a report in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, Peleg’s ex-wife, Etty, accused the Biran family of treating Eitan’s mother, Tal, poorly.

“I don’t know why they despise us; maybe because we are Sephardi,” she said. “I never hid my right-wing views,” she added, suggesting that the Ashkenazi Birans hold opposite positions.

The Pelegs also accuse Aya of deciding to send Eitan to a Catholic school. However, the boy’s parents had been sending him to the same Istituto Suore Canossiane in Pavia for kindergarten.

According to Aya, they had signed him up for first grade there already last January, which is standard practice in Italy. In a press conference with Italian media, she also said the Pelegs had been helping Amit and Tal to pay for tuition in recent years, so they were very aware of the school choice.

In Italy, like in other countries in the Diaspora, is not uncommon to send Jewish children, or children of other religions, to private religious schools that are sometimes more flexible in meeting their needs than public schools or are considered better academically.

On the other hand, Tal’s family has said the couple intended to move back to Israel soon; Amit was about to finish his studies. They also said this is what Eitan wanted.

“The boy wanted to go back to Israel the whole time,” Etty said.
“Finally, after four months, the doctors will see him. [His aunt and uncle] forbade my husband and me to meet with his doctors and therapists.”

Eitan was going through extensive testing and therapy at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, she said.

The Jerusalem Post has confirmed that Eitan went to Sheba Medical Center for some checkups. It is not clear how he was able to do so, since all travelers entering the country from Italy are required to isolate for at least a week, unless they are vaccinated or recovered in Israel within the past six months.

“He was born and grew up in my house,” Etty said. “He’s the first grandson from both sides, a boy with a lot of warmth and love – just a wonderful, smart boy. During [the] COVID [crisis], he was here for half a year or even more.”

Eitan’s uncle in Italy, Or Nirko, is Aya’s husband. He was interviewed after Etty and told 103FM she was involved in the abduction.

“She claims that she flew back to Israel the day before so that she could essentially not be involved in the crime,” Nirko said.
“After Eitan was abducted, you can imagine how we feel,” he added.
“Eitan went out for a family visit and was meant to return in the evening. We realized there was a problem when he didn’t come back.
We waited a few minutes, and Aya started calling [the grandparents], and no one answered.”

Shmuel Peleg had been sentenced for domestic abuse against Etty before they divorced, Aya told Italian media outlets.

PELEG IS currently being investigated for kidnapping by Italian authorities. According to Corriere della Sera, he drove Eitan out of Italy through the border with Switzerland, where documents are rarely inspected.

An Italian judge had ordered the Pelegs to return Eitan’s Israeli passport by August 30, which they did not do. The authorities also alerted border police in Italy and all the Schengen area, including Switzerland, that someone could try to cross borders with Eitan illegally.

It is therefore not clear why the grandfather was not stopped by Swiss police at Lugano’s airport, where according to the Italian paper they boarded a private Cessna plane to Ben-Gurion Airport. The cost of the flight was around €2,300 per hour, the report said.

The Italian media often describe Shmuel Peleg as “a former soldier,” in some instances hinting at ties with the Mossad.

In addition, some of the coverage suggests that the kidnapping was caused by religious fundamentalism.

The question of whether money is playing a role in the war between the families has also been raised by Italian media outlets.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post