In commemoration of Prisoner Day in Palestine, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners began a hunger strike in protest of the inhumane conditions they suffer in Israeli jails.  

The call for a hunger strike, also dubbed a dignity strike, came from Marwan Barghouti, a prominent Palestinian prisoner serving life sentences for crimes he maintains he did not commit. The purpose of the strike, Barghouti wrote in an opinion piece in the New York Times, is as follows:

Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention. According to the latest count from the Palestinian Prisoners Club, about 200 Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions. Palestinian prisoners and their families also remain a primary target of Israel’s policy of imposing collective punishments.  Through our hunger strike, we seek an end to these abuses.

Barghouti further described the ill treatment he has witnessed and received in Israeli prisons as well as the circumstances surrounding his “political show trial” which was denounced by international observers.  He also notes that the conviction rate for Palestinians in Israel’s dual legal system, which imposes military law on Palestinians but not Jews, is about 90 percent based on statistics from the State Department.  

In a show of solidarity with the hunger strikers, activists across the world are participating in the “salt water challenge. The challenge consists of people filming themselves drinking a glass of salt water since that’s the only thing prisoners will be ingesting during the hunger strike.  At the end of each video, as with the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Ice Bucket Challenge , participants then call on specific friends and colleagues to take the challenge.  

The challenge appears to have been started by Marwan Barghouti’s son, Aarab Marwan Barghouti, who then challenged Arab Idol winner Mohammed Assaf. Assaf obliged and passed the torch to other activists.

The dignity strike has also found support in Chicago, where the US Palestinian Community Network (USPCN) is holding an all day “Hunger Strike & Encampment” event in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on May 11.  

According to Muhammad Sankari, community organizer and USPCN member, the event is, amongst other things, a show of solidarity with Palestinian prisoners who are routinely tortured, detained without trial and denied medical treatment by Israel.   

USPCN’s event will consist of an encampment, meant to emulate encampments erected in Palestine for solidarity events, which will be set up in Burbank, Illinois on Harlem Avenue. Participants will record their own “salt water challenges” and post them to social media, sign a banner showing support for Palestinian prisoners to be sent back home, participate in a rally and a press conference.  The event will also include USPCN’s ongoing “When I Return” project which asks Palestinians to envision what they will do once liberation is won.   

Sankari stated that the symbolism of this properly named dignity strike carries with it an extra layer of significance for the Palestinian struggle.  It is essentially a message to Israel that “even in the darkest of all places, even in the belly of the beast” where Palestinians are detained and tortured, and even after decades of oppression, occupation, exile and ethnic cleansing, “Israel cannot take away our dignity.” 

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