In 2004, Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian man, was convicted of five counts of murder by an Israeli court. He has been in prison for 15 years, and on April 17th, launched the Hunger Strike for Freedom and Dignity. He and about 1,700 other Palestinians across eight Israeli prisons have been surviving on only salt water to protest inhumane living conditions, poor medical treatment, and insufficient prison visits.
Barghouti’s son, Aarab Marwan Barghouti, posted a video on Wednesday of him mixing and drinking salt water and explaining his father’s cause. Aarab called on “Arab Idol” winner Muhammed Assaf to participate, and Assaf obliged, effectively making the challenge go viral. In his video, Assaf said, “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.” Ever since then, Palestinians across the world are posting videos of themselves drinking salt water. The challenge draws attention to the hardships Palestinians endure in Israeli prisons.
Although Israel sees Barghouti as a threat, he is the most popular choice among Palestinians for their next president. Many of his counterparts are held under a law that says Palestinians may be held without charge. Palestinians view him as a “political prisoner“, while Israeli authorities say he is a criminal.
Assaf Librati, a spokesman for the Israeli prison service, says the prison will not be negotiating and will not meet the demands. He stated, “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.”