If you've been seeing people on Facebook drinking a glass of salty water, it's not just the latest social media challenge. The #SaltWaterChallenge is drawing attention to the plight of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons, who have been on hunger strike for two weeks to denounce their poor living conditions.
More than a thousand Palestinian prisoners have been on hunger strike since April 17 to condemn the conditions in detention and to call for the end of the administrative detention – imprisonment without trial – that has been imposed on them by the Israeli authorities.
As a sign of solidarity with the protesters, and to shine a light on their struggle, Aarab Marwan Barghouti started the online #SaltWaterChallenge on April 24. Barghouti is the son of Palestinian leader Marouane Barghouti, who has been sentenced to life in prison by the Israeli authorities. He has been in prison for 15 years.
Aarab Marwan Barghouti filmed himself drinking a glass of salt water and explained in the video: "For a week now, the prisoners are surviving solely by drinking this."
As in all social media challenges, Aarab Marwan Barghouti then nominated other people to follow suit. He asked Ali Jaber, a Lebanese TV personality, and the Palestinian singer Mohammed Assaf to also do the challenge. Their participation turned the challenge viral on Twitter, with videos in Arabic, English, and even French.
Israel's "cruel" detention policy
On Monday April 24, the Palestinian Prisoners Club (PPC) (an NGO founded in 1993 to support political prisoners in Israeli jails) said that Maroune Barghouti's health had "dangerously" deteriorated — which prison authorities denied. Barghouti was one of the initiators of the hunger strike and is one of the most well-known members of Fatah, a nationalist political party in Palestine and one of the largest factions of the pan-party movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Although it's not the first Palestinian hunger strike, it's unusual this time because it has lasted so long and invited such a following. Israeli authorities are refusing to give in, however, and say that no negotiation is possible. There are almost 6,500 Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. Amnesty International has called Israel's actions a "flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention".
This isn't the first time that an online challenge has drawn attention to Israeli policy: in 2015, the incredibly viral Ice Bucket Challenge, which consisted of pouring a bucket of ice water over your heard and was originally conceived to raise money for motor neurone disease charities, was adapted by Palestinian protesters to their cause. Their Rubble Bucket Challenge involved pouring not a bucket of ice but a bucket of sand and gravel over their heads to condemn the destruction of Palestinian buildings by the Israeli army.