The case of Mansour Shouman, a Canadian/Palestinian civilian journalist believed to be missing in Gaza, has received national and international attention as supporters around the world seek answers while praying for his well-being. The journalist had recently been covering the humanitarian efforts in Gaza as a citizen reporter, posting regular on-the-ground updates to his thousands of followers on social media. Those posts recently ended abruptly.
From 2001 to 2005, Shouman studied electrical engineering at Queen’s University, graduating with first class honours in 2005 and receiving awarded scholarships for academics and community outreach. According to his LinkedIn page, Shouman then went on to earn a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary.
After relocating to Gaza City with his wife and children in 2022, Shouman began documenting the situation as a journalist last October, after war broke out between Israel and Hamas. Over the next few months, Shouman regularly posted videos and other updates to his social media channel, providing a first-hand account of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza.
On Sunday, Jan. 21, 2024, Shouman uploaded a reel to his 8,000-plus Facebook followers, describing the situation in Khan Younis, where the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had reportedly withdrawn troops from the southern Gaza city “and resorted back to striking civilian targets from the land, air, and sea,” he said. Shouman told followers, “Today, after many days, after a long day of work, I had a shower. It was the best feeling ever.”
The next day, an update was shared to Shouman’s account on behalf of his team, noting, “Due to the [communications] blackout, we haven’t heard from Mansour in the past 12 hours.” Later that night, another post was shared to his page, saying the team had been informed by “secondary sources” that the civilian journalist “was safe,” without disclosing his exact whereabouts.
Despite sources initially telling Shouman’s supporters that he was safe, subsequent updates from his team have since alleged Shouman was “abducted by IDF.” They wrote, “We have learnt that Mansour Shouman, a father, son, and humanitarian, may have been abducted by IDF, as reported by several eyewitness accounts… while passing through a safe passage between Khan Younis and Rafah on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.”
Since learning of Shouman’s reported abduction, members of his team have called on the Canadian government to take “immediate action” to secure his whereabouts and “safe evacuation from the Middle East.” A petition has also been set up through Change.org, demanding Shouman’s “immediate release.”
Supporters alleged, “The abduction of Mansour is part of a larger issue where numerous civilians have been unlawfully detained without any charges or trial.” Citing information from B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, the petition explained, “As of December 2023, there were approximately 4,650 Palestinian detainees held in Israeli prisons.”
Since the petition was launched on January 27, it has gained more than 183,000 signatures. As widely reported by the various news agencies present in Parliament on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024, reporters asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about Shouman’s disappearance. “We are actively working on this. We’re talking to everyone. We’re taking this one very seriously,” the Prime Minister reportedly told those in the halls of Parliament as he left a caucus meeting.
‘Mansour is as Canadian as you can get’: supporters pray for well-being
Over 10 days after his last social media post, Shouman’s family, friends, and supporters continue to pray for his safety and well-being. Ayaz Hyder first met Shouman in the early 2000s while the two were studying at Queen’s.
“We were both in the same dorm, so we hung out quite a bit,” he said, noting that he and Shouman were also members of the Muslim Student Association at Queen’s and became quite close during their shared time in Kingston.
“I knew him well for those two years. Since then, we’ve kind of gone our separate ways, but I could still get in touch with him through LinkedIn… to just kind of ask how he’s doing or offer any kind of support that I can,” Hyder shared.
Despite having a very limited social media presence himself, Hyder said he became aware of Shouman’s work as a citizen journalist through his wife.
“She told me about him. I said, ‘Hold on, I know that person. We went to university together.’ So since then I have been following it online and just blown away by the amazing work that he’s been doing, and it completely lines up with everything that I know about him from the past,” he said.
Considering the risks involved with being a citizen journalist in Gaza, Hyder said Shouman’s commitment to the cause speaks to their experiences growing up as Muslim Canadian men in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
“I think, growing up in that way, we couldn’t help but be involved,” he said.
“[Being] out there trying to combat Islamophobia, being of service to the communities wherever we were, in whatever capacity we were in… because a lot of us didn’t want our own kids to be growing up… and going through the kinds of things that we were going through.”
Hyder added, “I think it’s part and parcel of what it is to us as Muslim Canadians, as people of faith, to do what is right and to do it at our own expense and put ourselves out there. I think it’s the Canadian way. I don’t know of any other way to describe it. I think Mansour is as Canadian as you can get. He’s as Muslim as you can get.”
Like many of Shouman’s supporters, Hyder said the last week has been a stressful one and that he has been unable to think about much else other than the well-being of his dear friend.
“I wake up thinking, hoping, and praying that he’s okay, and I go to bed thinking, hoping, and praying that he’s okay. To be honest, it is hard to get work done; it is hard to pick up your own kids,” Hyder expressed.
“This morning, I was making lunch for my kids and I was just thinking, ‘What would Mansour give to just be doing that?’ Putting your kids on the bus to school instead of doing that,” he remarked.
Asked whether he has confidence the Canadian government will be able to secure Shouman’s release, Hyder noted the country has not always acted in the best interests of its Muslim citizens. Citing the case of Maher Arar, a Syrian/Canadian who was falsely accused of terrorism and deported back to Syria before being cleared of any links to terrorism, Hyder pondered how the government might react if Shouman weren’t Muslim.
“I wish [the government] was more forceful. I wish they were taking it more seriously. I think it has to be [asked], if Mansour’s name was Dylan or Thomas, and his skin colour was different… or there was a picture of him playing hockey as a kid, would it be different? I think it’s fair to ask those questions because we see Islamophobia everywhere,” he said.
“I do want to give the government the benefit of the doubt, that they’re doing everything they can. And I think it’s also fair to ask if it was Dylan or Thomas, and he grew up in Peterborough, would it be different? Would the outcome be different? Would the amount of effort that’s being given, the amount of people, the amount of updates being given, be different?”
Kingstonist has reached out to the office of Mark Gerretsen, federal Member of Parliament (MP) for Kingston and the Islands, for comment on this matter.
“In following up with my colleagues in Ottawa, we know that Canadian officials continue to monitor the situation closely and are in direct contact with the family members of the Canadian who is missing in Gaza,” MP Gerretsen said in a statement to Kingstonist.
“The safety of Canadians, at home and abroad, continues to be a top priority. However, for privacy reasons, no further information can be disclosed at this time.”