Aarab Marwan Barghouti, the son of jailed Palestinian official Marwan Barghouti who is leading a hunger strike of more than 1,500 Palestinians detained in Israeli prisons, gave a boost to prisoner solidarity campaigns by releasing a video of him drinking a bitter mixture of salt and water. The clip closes by asking others to participate in his “salt water challenge” in solidarity with the Palestinian hunger strikers.
Aarab Barghouti challenged Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf to post a video of himself also drinking salt water. Assaf responded within hours with a recording, as did many others. Most of the videos are posted in Arabic, but a few have come been published over the last few hours in English or some combination of the two.
Saltwater is symbolic of prisoner hunger strikes as in these protests the detainees generally abstain from food but consume saltwater as a means of steadying their health. The #SaltWaterChallenge hashtag is an echo of the Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral on social media in 2014 and raised attention, and funds, for A.L.S. research.
Palestinians held in Israeli prisons began an open-ended hunger strike a week and a half ago. Marwan Barghouti penned an op-ed on the start day of the strike in the New York Times, alleging Israel’s prison service systematically abused him. “[An] Israeli interrogator forced me to spread my legs while I stood naked in the interrogation room, before hitting my genitals. I passed out from the pain,” he wrote. Following publication, Israeli authorities moved Barghouti into solitary confinement.
Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs released a lengthy fact sheet regarding the essay in the Times. Addressing the specific description of torture in an Israeli prison, the ministry said, “In his opinion piece, Barghouti’s claims of mistreatment have no basis or evidence; moreover, he could have appealed his claims at the time he alleges they occurred, but did not.”
Hunger strikers quickly released a list of demands to end their protest. Most relate to their living conditions and medical treatment, or rather the lack of medical services provided to Palestinian detainees.
Not all complaints are directed toward the Israeli government. Prisoners want the International Committee of the Red Cross, the liaison that coordinates family visitation for inmate relatives from the occupied Palestinian territory to increase the number of monthly visits. In the past, the Red Cross offered two trips per month. Now it is down to one. The Times of Israel reported Sunday the Red Cross was considering the prisoners’ demands.