Palestinians across the world are posting videos of themselves on social media drinking salt water, as part of a new online challenge intended to draw attention to Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli prisons.
The Salt Water Challenge, as it’s called, asks supporters of the hunger strike to express their solidarity in a video before mixing salt in a glass of water and drinking it. Similar to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral in 2014, participants then challenge friends to do the same.
The challenge involves saltwater because that’s what the hunger strikers are drinking to stabilize their health while abstaining from food.
More than 1,500 Palestinians in eight Israeli prisons launched a “Hunger Strike for Freedom and Dignity” on April 17 to demand better living conditions and medical treatment. The strike was coordinated by Marwan Barghouti, a high-profile prisoner who enjoys broad support among Palestinians.
An Israeli court convicted Barghouti in 2004 of five counts of murder, including orchestrating attacks against Israelis. He has denied the charges and claimed to be targeted by Israeli authorities for his politics and activism against Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories.
“My father, along with 1,700 other political prisoners started the Hunger Strike for Freedom and Dignity in demand for human rights and humane living conditions in the prisons,” the younger Barghouti said in the video.
Among those he challenged was “Arab Idol” winner Mohammed Assaf, who responded in kind — helping the online campaign to go viral.
“I challenge everyone, all honorable people wherever they may be, to take on this challenge in solidarity with our heroic detainees until they gain their freedom,” Assaf said in his video.
Palestinians from across the Middle East, Europe and North American quickly followed suit with videos of their own. While most spoke in Arabic, others took up the challenge in English, French and other languages.
Israeli authorities have stated that they will not meet the prisoners’ demands.
Assaf Librati, spokesman for the Israel Prison Service, said the prison service does not negotiate with prisoners.
“Hunger strikers in prison endanger the health and life of the prisoners in custody of the state who is in charge of their well-being – organized hunger strikers even more so,” Librati said.
There are approximately 6,500 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. They are imprisoned for a number of offenses – including protesting, inciting violence and affiliating with groups Israel considers to be terrorist organizations. Many are also imprisoned under a controversial administrative detention law, which allows Palestinians to be held without charge.
Israeli authorities consider these detainees to be criminals and terrorists; Palestinians say they are political prisoners.