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Finding Neverland Blog Archive

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why did America Kill our Grandmother? A Pakistani Family visits USA for Answers.


Nabila Rehman, a survivor of Drone attacks.
Drawing on a pad of paper in a Washington DC hotel, Nabeela ur Rehman recalled the day her grandmother was killed. "I was running away," the nine-year told the Guardian. "I was trying to wipe away the blood."

"It was as if it was night all of the sudden."

The date was 24 October 2012, the eve of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holy day. Nabeela's father, Rafiq ur Rehman, a school teacher living in the remote Pakistani tribal region of North Waziristan, was dropping off sweets at his sister's home when it happened.

He had hoped to make the visit a family affair but his mother urged him to go alone. Rafiq did as she wished then stopped at the local mosque for evening prayers before taking the bus home. As the vehicle came to a halt at his stop, Rehman noticed something unsettling: members of his community were preparing to bury a body at a small graveyard nearby.

The Rehmans traveled halfway across the world, from their remote village of Tappi, to tell their story and to urge lawmakers to put an end to the covert CIA program of “targeted killings” in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. They also participated in an Amnesty International report about casualties of drones and a documentary by filmmaker Robert Greenwald, called Unmanned. According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 376 total strikes have taken place in Pakistan, killing up to 926 civilians and as many as 200 children.

Rafiq Ur Rehman, father of Nabila and Zubair.

"I got a little worried," Rehman said. He asked a boy what was going on. The child informed him that the mother of a man named Latif Rehman had been killed in a drone attack. The boy did not know the man he spoke to was Latif Rehman's younger brother.

"That's when I first knew," Rehman said, describing how he learned of his mother's death. The fruits Rehman had collected at the bazaar fell from his hands. "I just dropped everything. I was in a state of shock," he said. Rehman feared the worst. He knew his children were with their grandmother. "I frantically ran to my house."

Rehman arrived home to find that the charred remains of his mother had already been buried. Two of his children, Nabeela and her 12-year-old brother, Zubair, had been injured and taken to a nearby hospital, neighbors said. "At that point, I thought I had lost them as well," Rehman said.

The children survived the attack, but their recovery process was just beginning. A year later, Rehman still has no idea why his mother, Momina Bibi, a 67-year-old midwife, was blown to pieces while tending her garden. Along with Nabeela and Zubair, Rehman has traveled to Washington DC to seek answers. On Tuesday, the family will appear before members of Congress to describe their experience, marking the first time in history that US lawmakers will hear directly from the survivors of an alleged US drone strike.


Zubair Ur Rehamn and Nabila Rehman testifying.
On Sunday, in their first interview with US media since arriving to the country and speaking through a translator, Rehman and his children described the day Momina Bibi was killed and their efforts since then to find justice. Zubair, now 13, said the sky was clear the day his grandmother died. He had just returned home from school. Everyone had been in high spirits for the holiday, Zubair said, though above their heads aircraft were circling. Not airplanes or helicopters, Zubair said. Drones.

"I know the difference," Zubair said, explaining the different features and sounds the vehicles make. "I am certain that it was a drone." Zubair recalled a pair of "fireballs" tearing through the clear blue sky, after he stepped outside. After the explosion there was darkness, he said, and a mix of smoke and debris.

"When it first hit, it was like everyone was just going crazy. They didn't know what to make of it," Zubair said. "There was madness." A piece of shrapnel ripped into the boy's left leg, just above his kneecap. A scar approximately four inches in length remains. "I felt like I was on fire," he said. The injury would ultimately require a series of costly operations.

Nabeela, the little girl, was collecting okra when the missiles struck. "My grandma was teaching me how you can tell if the okra is ready to be picked," she said. "All of the sudden there was a big noise. Like a fire had happened.


Youngest in the family, Nabila's sister. 
"I was scared. I noticed that my hand was hurting, that there was something that had hit my hand and so I just started running. When I was running I noticed that there was blood coming out of my hand."

Nabeela continued running. The bleeding would not stop. She was eventually scooped up by her neighbors. "I had seen my grandmother right before it had happened but I couldn't see her after. It was just really dark but I could hear [a] scream when it had hit her."

Nabeela spent most of her days with her grandmother. "I really liked my grandma," she said. "I enjoyed following her and learning how to do things." Zubair said his grandmother was liked by all. "There's no one else like her. We all loved her." In the year since his mother's death, Rehman said, life has changed dramatically. "Not having her is as if a limb has been cut," he said.

For Rehman's father, a respected headmaster a local school, the death of his wife has been devastating. The couple was unaccustomed to being apart, Rehman said. "After my mom's death, we haven't really seen our dad smile. It's like he doesn't have any more will for going on."




Rehman described the message he hopes to convey to the American people through the briefing: "I want them to know the drones are having an impact on our lives."
"It's hitting our elders. It took my mom. It's affected my children and we haven't done anything wrong."
But even after what his family has been through, Rafiq Rehman said he does not resent the United States. In fact, even after witnessing his first Halloween weekend in the States, he does not believe all that much separates him from Americans.
“It’s very peaceful here. For the most part, there’s a lot of freedom and people get along with each other. They’re nice, they respect each other, and I appreciate that,” Rafiq told Al Jazeera.
“We’re all human beings,” he said. “I knew that Americans would have a heart, that they would be sympathetic to me. That’s why I came here — I thought if they heard my story, they would want to listen to me and influence their politicians.”
Rafiq, like so many fathers, wants his children to have peaceful lives and the best education possible. He hopes Zubair grows up to be a doctor and that Nabila is a lawyer.

“(The drone attack) created a disruption in our lives,” he said. “Our children live in fear. They don’t want to go to school. They don’t want to play outside.”
Ultimately, only five members of Congress arrived at the briefing to hear their testimony Tuesday morning: Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida, who organized the briefing, along with Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Rush Holt, D-N.J., John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rick Nolan, D-Minn.
What compelling interest did the U.S. government have in murdering a grandmother of nine and a midwife who helped deliver babies in the village, Rehman asked them. How can he reassure his children that the drones will not come back?
Still, Zubair Rehman remained hopeful.
“I hope I can return home with a message,” he said. “I hope I can tell my community that Americans listened.”
“I no longer love blue skies,” Zubair said. “In fact, I now prefer gray skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are gray.”

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