Saltwater challenge in support of Palestinian prisoners
It started as a short video by Aarab Barghouthi, son of jailed Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouthi who is leading a hunger strike since April 17.
The young Barghouthi took a spoon of salt, added it to a glass of water and drank the salt water. He challenged all people of honour around the world to do the same as an expression of solidarity with Palestinians. Many have.
His video and the videos of celebrities, politicians and activists taking the challenge and challenging others to do so have gone viral.
Palestinian “Arab Idol” Mohammad Assaf was one of the first to take the challenge. Yacoub Shahin, the recent winner, also took it, as did the Emirati judge and singer Ahlam.
Senior Lebanese politician Salim Al Hoss expressed support for Palestinian prisoners as has British theatre director Joe Douglas, and pro-Palestine English comedian and political satirist Mark Thomas accepted to be a part of the challenge during their visit to the city of Ramallah.
More than 1,500 Palestinian prisoners led by Barghouthi began the hunger strike to protest to the humiliation and lack of basic rights, such as family visits and proper medical care.
Amnesty International, the International Committee for the Red Cross and the Israeli human rights organisation Btselem are among the many NGOs that publicly support the Palestinian protest.
The main demand of the prisoners is regular family visits.
Since Israel incarcerates most Palestinians in prisons in Israel, the two visits a month as mandated by international humanitarian law cannot be honoured.
Israeli security officials require a visitor to get not only permission from the Israeli Prison Authority but also from the Israeli army to enter Israel.
The Geneva Convention makes it very clear that an occupying power is not allowed to move the prisoners from the occupied areas to its territory.
Other demands are as simple as allowing prisoners books, installing pay phones in prisons and allowing female prisoners to meet their families without the glass barrier.
Palestinians have also regularly demanded that the practice of administrative detention should stop.
Israel currently detains nearly 500 Palestinians, including journalists and Palestinian legislators, without charge or trial.
Palestinian prisoners also complain of inadequate medical support. A prisoner support NGO documented the cases of over 200 Palestinian prisoners who have died in Israeli jails since 1967.
Israeli prison authorities refused to respond to the basic humanitarian needs of the prisoners and mounted a counter campaign saying that the strike is political and motivated by the desire of the prisoner’s leader, Barghouthi, to draw attention onto himself.
Barghouthi, imprisoned for life on murder charges (which he did not challenge in court because he refused to accept its jurisdiction) recently received the highest number of votes in the internal elections for the leadership of the Fateh movement.
Part of the Israeli attempts to discredit Barghouthi was a video released by the Israeli prison authorities reportedly showing a person sneaking a chocolate bar into the bathroom.
Israeli officials admitted that they set Barghouthi up to discredit him, and his family and supporters said that the video is fake.
The Israeli attempt has failed to gain support among Palestinians who are holding protests daily in the occupied territories and in the world.
In Jordan, numerous acts of solidarity with the prisoners are taking place on a daily basis, some led by the BDS Jordan movement.
The Palestinian prisoners are also being attacked indirectly by the Israeli and US governments.
The US appears to have adopted the Israeli claims that the meagre monthly stipend given by the Palestinian government to families of Palestinian prisoners amounts to support and glorification of terror.
The Trump administration asked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to pay the prisoners and their families.
The Palestinian government states that the social benefit is given to all families who have lost a breadwinner, including orphans and the unemployed.
Furthermore, the Palestinian government explained that no donor money is used to support the families of prisoners, but that the money to support prisoners and their families comes from the Palestine National Fund, which is based in Amman.
To counter that, Israel declared the fund a terrorist organisation despite the fact that it is an integral part of the PLO, which signed the Oslo Accords with Israel over 20 years ago.
Support for the prisoners is increasing daily.
Some Jordanians of Palestinian origin and a respected Palestinian commentator, Naser Laham, of the Maan News network, called on King Abdullah to interfere and save Barghouthi’s life.
The salt water challenge will continue to produce videos in solidarity with Palestinians as the prisoners’ hunger strike enters its fourth week and as their lives are in jeopardy.
A poll conducted in the occupied territories shows that over 80 per cent of Palestinians are convinced that the prisoners’ hunger strike will be successful.