Today marks one year since a member of the Israeli military deliberately shot and killed Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
To date, no one has been criminally prosecuted for the killing. The case is currently at the International Criminal Court (ICC), and, following pressure from the United States Congress (Abu Akleh was an American citizen), the FBI launched an investigation, which Israel refused to cooperate with, in November.
The Maple and Passage, the forerunner of The Maple’s opinion section, have been among the only news publications in Canada covering the Trudeau government’s response (or lack thereof) to the killing with continued original reporting and analysis.
What follows is a timeline, based on our reporting, documenting the story of how Canada has quietly helped to whitewash Israel’s killing of Abu Akleh.
May 11, 2022. Shireen Abu Akleh is shot and killed in Jenin. Canadian politicians refuse to name Israel as the perpetrator...
Shortly after news broke that Shireen Abu Akleh had been shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid on a refugee camp in Jenin, Al Jazeera (AJ), Abu Akleh’s employer, immediately cited eye witness accounts pointing to Israel’s responsibility.
In a statement, AJ said: “In a blatant murder, violating international laws and norms, the Israeli occupation forces assassinated in cold blood Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Palestine, Shireen Abu Akleh.”
Witnesses noted that Abu Akleh and her colleague Ali Al Samoudi were wearing clearly marked press vests at the time they were shot. Al Samoudi was also hit, but later recovered in hospital.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry initially sought to cast blame for the murder on Palestinians, a suggestion that was promptly debunked by a field researcher with the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
Meanwhile, Canadian lawmakers issued statements expressing sorrow at the killing and calling for an investigation, but none would name Israel as the culprit.
Conservative MPs blocked a motion in parliament by NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice, who sought unanimous consent for a call for an independent investigation into Abu Akleh’s death.
... In Ottawa, Global Affairs Canada staff receive diplomatic reports...
A few hours after Abu Akleh was killed, senior Global Affairs Canada (GAC) staff received a flash report from Canada’s diplomatic office in Ramallah noting that Israel has a long track record of failing to properly investigate when its security forces attack reporters, The Maple revealed.
The next day, May 12, a separate report from the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv acknowledged that Israel’s narrative claiming that a Palestinian gunman may have killed Abu Akleh had been “largely debunked.”
Despite the information in these reports, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly’s statements excluded specific calls for an independent investigation, and the minister did not condemn Israel as the perpetrator.
Joly’s office had no comment when The Maple asked about its response to the information in its own diplomatic reports.
... Israeli forces attack Abu Akleh’s funeral procession. Canadian officials delay statements condemning the assault...
GAC staff and Canadian diplomats closely monitored responses from the U.S., United Kingdom and European Union to Abu Akleh’s death before issuing their own statements that parroted similar talking points, documents obtained by The Maple last July revealed.
Notably, the statements excluded specific calls for an independent investigation by an international body, such as the ICC.
On May 13, horrific footage of Israeli forces beating Abu Akleh’s pallbearers with batons and causing them to almost drop her casket sparked international outrage and condemnation.
Additional emails obtained by The Maple showed that GAC staff and diplomats again waited to see what officials from other Israel-allied countries said about that attack before they issued their own similarly worded statements.
Tom Woodley, president of the advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), told The Maple at the time:
“You don’t demonstrate leadership by waiting to see what others will do. It shows just how servile this government has become to pro-Israel interests. It also shows how this government’s talk about the international rules-based order is nothing but lip service.”
... Subsequent investigations confirm Israel’s responsibility. The Trudeau government still refuses to support an independent investigation...
In the weeks and months following Abu Akleh’s death, further evidence of Israel’s responsibility for the killing mounted as dozens of independent news organizations, human rights groups and international bodies conducted their own investigations.
All confirmed that the gunfire that killed Abu Akleh most likely came from an Israeli sniper in a nearby military convoy.
There was no evidence of any hostile shooting in the area, further debunking the Israeli government’s initial false claim that Abu Akleh may have been killed in the crossfire of a shootout with Palestinian fighters.
On May 23, the Palestinian Authority (PA) formally brought the case to the ICC asking for an independent investigation, which Canada refused to support when asked directly by The Maple. Abu Akleh’s family also filed a formal complaint with the ICC in September.
Canada has previously refused to support Palestinian cases brought to the ICC on the basis that Canada “does not recognize a Palestinian state” and therefore does not recognize the PA's right to bring cases to the international court.
Israel, meanwhile, said it would not open a criminal probe into the killing, citing concerns about public opinion within Israel. It did, however, eventually conduct what it described as an internal “investigation” into the incident.
... Canada works behind the scenes to whitewash Israel’s responsibility...
By Sept. 5, 2022, the Israeli military admitted that there was a “high possibility” that one of its soldiers was responsible for killing Abu Akleh, but claimed the shooting was accidental and the result of a shootout with Palestinian fighters.
That suggestion was promptly slammed by B’Tselem as a “whitewash” designed to shake off Israel’s responsibility for Abu Akleh’s death.
Israel’s report also directly contradicted other investigations and eyewitnesses who said the shooting was targeted and deliberate, and that there was no sign of any hostile gunfire in the area.
On September 15, the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC), which Canada co-chaired at the time, published a statement condemning the killing of Abu Akleh and calling for “accountability,” but did not name Israel as the culprit.
Emails later obtained by The Maple showed that Joly’s office unsuccessfully tried to make a last minute edit to the MFC statement that would have cited Israel’s discredited report claiming Abu Akleh was shot “accidentally” in crossfire with Palestinians.
When that request was rebuffed due to time constraints, Joly’s office asked ministry staff to consider delaying the statement because they were worried about it clashing with the lead up to Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral.
Mark Ayyash, a sociology professor at Mount Royal University specializing in decolonial studies and the Palestinian struggle, told The Maple at the time: “They wanted the Israeli report to be put in there to exonerate Israel from this, and to turn it into a case of ‘we don't know what happened,’” adding that he believed the concerns about the Queen’s funeral were likely an excuse for a delay that would have allowed more time to add the reference to the Israeli report.
... Forensic investigation proves conclusively that the killing was deliberate...
Nearly one week after MFC published its statement, a forensic investigation conducted out of the University of London confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that Israel’s killing of Abu Akleh was deliberate.
Using “advanced spatial and audio analysis,” as well as never-before-seen footage of the incident, the study showed that the Israeli shooter, firing from an armoured vehicle, would have been able to clearly see Abu Akleh’s press vest through their rifle scope, and that the shooter opened fire on Abu Akleh and her colleague repeatedly with an intention to kill despite a lack of any hostile gunfire in the area.
One of the investigation’s researchers, Omar Ferwati, told The Maple: “They see [the journalists] run away; they see them hide, take cover. And as they were doing that, [the shooter] decided at that point to fire seven more shots, and one of those shots, Shireen was hit and killed.”
“That’s not a reflex; that’s not crossfire. That’s a very clear intention.”
... Canadian MPs remain silent...
In October, Davide Mastracci, then managing editor of Passage and now opinion editor of The Maple, found that of the 17 Canadian MPs who initially condemned Abu Akleh’s killing and called for an investigation in the days immediately following her death, none had subsequently issued follow-up statements about the incident.
Davide reached out to the MPs for comment, and just one responded (after his article was published). In assessing this near total silence from Canadian parliamentarians, Davide wrote:
“The idea of waiting for an investigation before moving forward to take concrete action isn’t a bad one in theory. Yet in practice, it has effectively acted as a replacement our MPs can use for ‘thoughts and prayers.’ It’s a way to express concern without making any commitment to help. This is because by hinging their actions on a future, possibly non-existent, investigation, they can avoid doing anything. Either no investigation happens, or if it does, they can portray it as not being sufficient enough to warrant action. So, no steps are taken, and the hope is that constituents will forget and move on.”
“But we shouldn’t move on. It’s a disgrace that one of Canada’s closest allies can kill a journalist in cold blood, and escape even symbolic condemnation for doing so, all the while our government preaches about the importance of protecting reporters and press freedom.”
... Canadian parliamentary report excludes mention of Abu Akleh’s death...
This radio silence continued the following month. A parliamentary committee report examining the international situation of human rights defenders and journalists excluded any mention of Abu Akleh and gave scant attention to Israel’s other abuses.
The omissions in the report were noted by Michael Bueckert, vice president of CJPME. He tweeted: “Although entirely expected, it is still outrageous that a Canadian parliamentary report on human rights violations would give a pass to Israel.”
Since then, we’ve still heard nothing from the Canadian government and MPs about Israel’s killing of Abu Akleh. Perhaps the one-year anniversary of her death today will occasion a concrete response, and one that goes beyond a standard statement expressing sorrow.
I won’t hold my breath.
Alex Cosh is the news editor of The Maple.