Last week at the 5-star Grand Park hotel in Ramallah, the entire staff — management, chefs, busboys, waiters and cleaners — gathered in the dinning hall. Each person had next to them a small glass of water and a shot glass full of salt. On the boss’s mark, they poured the salt into the water, mixed it with a fork, and slammed the salt water back into their mouths.
The whole affair — known as the salt water challenge — was meant to be a display of solidarity for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, who are entering their third week of a hunger strike.
For hunger strikers, salt water is their only source of daily sustenance.
With participants posting videos of them downing glasses of salt water to social media, the challenge has gone viral, and spread from Palestinian social media across the Middle East and the world, bringing attention to the hunger strike.
According to Palestinian figures, around 1,500 prisoners, mostly from the Fatah organization and including many convicted terrorists, are taking part in the open-ended hunger strike announced last week in a bid to improve their conditions in Israeli prisons.
The Israel Prison Service puts the current number of strikers at around 820, and said 300 have already dropped out.
The strike is led by Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah party leader who is serving five life sentences after he was convicted in 2004 in a civil court of initiating and planning multiple deadly terror attacks against Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada.
Modeled on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral in 2014, in the salt water version, after someone has finished chugging his glass, he then challenges a new person to make the display.
#تحدي_مي_وملحأقل ما يمكن تقديمهُ لدعم صمود الأسرى الفلسطينيين في سجون الإحتلال. .
Posted by Grand Park Hotels on Wednesday, April 26, 2017
The success of the salt water challenge can be traced back to Barghouti’s son, Aarab, who filmed himself drinking the salt water and challenged former Palestinian Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf to do so next.
Assaf complied and then challenged “every honorable person” to take the challenge after him.
Thousands across the world who support the Palestinian hunger strike have gone on to take the salt water challenge, including Palestinian politicians like Fatah Central Committee member Tawfiq Tirawi, Palestinian-American comedian Amer Zahr, citizens of the United States, Ireland, Colombia and South Africa.
John wanted to show his solidarity with the Palestinian prisoners! Let's keep it going!#تحدي_مي_وملح#saltwaterchallenge#اضراب_الكرامة#dignitystrike
Posted by Aarab Marwan Barghouthi on Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Among the demands made by Barghouti and fellow prisoners are the resumption of a second monthly visit by family members (a benefit that was canceled by the International Committee of the Red Cross last year due to budget cuts), the prevention of family meetings being canceled for security reasons, extending the length of each visit from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, and the restoration of academic studies and matriculation exams for prisoners. Other demands include more television channels being available in cells and the installation of public telephones in security wings.
Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently detained by Israel for a range of terror offenses and crimes. Around 500 are held under administrative detention, a controversial counter-terror practice that allows for extended imprisonment without charge.
The Israel Prison Service has said it will not negotiate with the strikers, and maintains the security prisoners are given conditions that meet international law standards.
Palestinian prisoners have previously mounted hunger strikes, but rarely on such a scale.