In July and August, the Ice Bucket Challenge to raise awareness and research funds for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, became an international viral sensation on social media. Nominated participants were “challenged” by friends or coworkers to have themselves filmed dumping a bucket of ice water on their heads and to nominate others to do the same by issuing challenges of their own. The challenge raised upward of $100 million for ALS-related charities. In an attempt to draw attention to the plight of Gaza under Israeli assault, several Palestinians and international solidarity activists created their own version of this challenge.
On 23 August, Ayman al-Aloul, a prominent Gaza-based journalist and activist, posted a video to YouTube with the hashtag #RemainsBucket, in which he is seen standing in the remains of a destroyed building making an impassioned plea for attention and support as a bucket of rubble is poured on top of his head. The hashtag had been coined by a university student in Gaza the day before on Facebook, but it was al-Aloul’s video that first popularized it in Gaza. The Rubble Bucket Challenge, as it came to be known, did not attain the same international notoriety as the ALS version, but it did win the attention of the media, especially after Arab Idol winner, singer, and UNRWA goodwill ambassador Mohammed Assaf participated on 25 August.
Ayman al-Aloul prepares to pour a bucket of rubble from the bombing of Gaza over his head. (YouTube)
In the video, al-Aloul explains how the idea was formed. “We looked for a bucket of water; however, the use of water is more important than to empty over our heads. And even if the water is available, it is difficult to freeze it. And when we tried to make the Palestinian version, we looked around us, we find the place as you see (destroyed buildings). Therefore I decided to use it instead of iced water.”
Covered in dirt and dust, UNRWA goodwill ambassador Mohammed Assaf appeals for international support for the people of Gaza. (YouTube)
A week later, after Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to an open-ended cease-fire, Ohio University’s (OU) Student Senate President Megan Marzec was challenged to do the Ice Bucket Challenge by her school’s president. She responded with another subversive take on the meme and took the challenge with a bucket of fake blood instead, to call attention to the devastation in Gaza and to promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Marzec’s video led to a backlash from campus Jewish and pro-Israel groups, which in turn brought about national media coverage in the United States. In an interview with Electronic Intifada on 24 September, Marzec said she had received “thousands of hate emails,” including death and rape threats. There were calls for her resignation issued by campus groups and a Jewish fraternity. The university itself released a statement, saying, “Her actions do not reflect the position of Ohio University or President [Roderick] McDavis.”
Many Palestinians and solidarity activists supported Marzec, including Palestine Solidarity Legal Support, which sent a letter to OU administrators encouraging them to uphold their students’ right to free speech. Marzec’s video was removed from YouTube at the height of the controversy, but not before it was viewed thousands of times.
Marzec, wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Ohio U Divest from Israel,” takes the “Blood Bucket Challenge.” (YouTube)