Israel’s West Bank military prisons are notorious for their systemic denial of Palestinian rights. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been paraded through military courts that have a 99% conviction rate. Others are routinely held without charge under “administrative detention” for renewable six-month periods. Detainees are coerced to sign “confessions” in Hebrew, a language most do not understand. Palestinian children are not immune to this treatment either, and often suffer months in prison for as little as hurling a stone toward an armed soldier or armored military vehicle. Today, over 6,000 Palestinians are imprisoned by Israel.
Not for the first time, Palestinian prisoners have coordinated a hunger strike to protest their dehumanizing conditions. While Palestinians are staging solidarity demonstrations and tent camps, displaying prisoner photographs, some Israelis have launched vulgar counter-protests. First, Israeli settlers and soldiers staged a BBQ feast outside Israel’s Ofer prison on the occupied West Bank. Then, Israeli government released a video ostensibly showing Palestinian hunger strike leader Marwan Barghouti eating in an effort to break prisoners’ morale.
Now, the Israeli branch of the American restaurant chain Pizza Hut has run into controversy after a Facebook marketing campaign crudely pondering whether Barghouti would have preferred a pizza instead and photoshopped a pizza box into the footage released by the government. “Barghouti, if you’re going to break a strike, why not pizza?” the caption proclaims. This sparked further mockery of Barghouti on social media by pro-Israel partisans.
I rarely eat candy bars. But when I do, it's when I am on hunger strikes.
Stay hungry my friends. pic.twitter.com/VClSjYS7t7
— Jonathan Schanzer (@JSchanzer) May 7, 2017
— Akram Al Jariri (@a_jariri) May 9, 2017
On Twitter and Facebook, the tasteless exploitation of a hunger strike was lambasted and many called for a worldwide boycott of the franchise under the #DignityStrike, which is the trending hashtag for the prisoners’ protest.
The boycott calls spread around the Arab world, also employing #BoycottPizzaHut
— Amin Jarrar (@AminJarrar1) May 9, 2017
— بن علي (@SulimanBimani) May 9, 2017
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) May 10, 2017
— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) May 10, 2017
Many partisans of Israel found the campaign humorous and lamented that Pizza Hut’s America did not join the mockery:
— Ben Af Rothenberg (@RisingRedStorm) May 9, 2017
— Zionist Pugs (@zionistpugs) May 10, 2017
In response to the controversy, Pizza Hut Israel fired the PR firm that came up with the ad campaign, which it called “completely inappropriate,” while the PR firm tellingly stated that it had not expected to offend anyone. In Arabic and English, Pizza Hut offered the following apology on its Facebook page: