A group of twenty University of Michigan students stood in the Diag Friday afternoon, hands gripped around red solo cups filled with salty water, and recorded their entry to the international #SaltWaterChallenge viral video campaign in order to show their support for Palestinian prisoners and bring awareness of the ongoing hunger strike to campus.
The #SaltWaterChallenge is a social media trend in solidarity with over 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in Israel who have been on hunger strike since mid-April.
Modeled after the popular ALS ice-bucket challenge, the movement was created by one of the prisoner’s son, Aarab Marwan Barghouti. The salt water signifies what the prisoners are drinking in order to sustain themselves throughout the strike.
Al Jazeera News reports many prisoners say they are suffering from medical negligence and are denied water. Other demands include ending administrative detentions — in which an individual is unaware of the charge they are facing while they are in prisons.
Barghouti’s father is leading the hunger strike and is currently serving five life sentences.
According to the Facebook event, the aim of the strike is to “demand better conditions, medical treatment, and basic human rights in Israeli prisons.”
Ann Arbor resident Joel Reinstein, who came to participate, said the challenge was meant to generate international pressure on Israeli prisons.
“I think the strike is on its 26th day and from what I am reading, Israel is finally starting to consider negotiating with the leaders of the Palestinian strike,” he said. “So, you know, it’s working.”
University Palestinian student group, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, saw iterations of the video from other universities and individuals— nationally and globally — and wanted to bring the event to campus.
University alum Devin Jones, former SAFE board member, said the group hopes to change perceptions of their organization and the Palestinian people through their work.
“Well, I can kind of speak from past experiences of dealing with this on campus, but the first thing that is SAFE’s mission is to bring awareness,” he said. “Because most of the time the narrative is that we don’t exist or we only exist during the capacity that is to threaten or to harm people, in this case, Jewish-Israelis. We are trying to get around that narrative and show that Palestinians are actually oppressed. And once you learn about that oppression, maybe you can do something. So the first step is awareness.”
SAFE kicked off the video by nominating Michigan State University, Wayne State University and Ohio State University’s Palestinian-related student organizations to do the challenge. With two members holding a large flag in the background, the group chanted “Down with apartheid, free Palestine” as they drank.
One of the participants was LSA senior Nour Abughoush, who is also a Palestinian SAFE member. She said she felt a personal connection to the event.
“It kind of breaks my hearts to see the hunger strike, to see that they are really suffering and the fact that no one cares enough to really show some support,” she said. “So I do the little of what I can do to help out and bring awareness.”
Abughoush hopes to see University students learn more about the issue and show more support for Palestinians both on and off campus.
“Because here…there is not a lot of empathy for Palestinians on this campus,” she said. “At least, I haven’t seen it. So just do the little you can to show support. (For University students, I would like them to) just to know what’s going on…(to have) awareness and have empathetic feeling for once about what’s going on. (Palestinians are) humans just like everyone else.”