In Gaza, the rubble bucket challenge

WASHINGTON – In the first week of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, Palestinians are finding a use for the rubble that seven weeks of fighting has deposited on their streets: They’re dumping it over their heads.

The “rubble bucket challenge,” a twist on the “ice bucket challenge” that has raised more than $80 million for ALS research in a month, encourages those who support the cause of Palestinian statehood to demonstrate their solidarity by posting a video of themselves pouring sand and dust, rather than ice water, over their heads. Jordanian comedian Mahmoud Darwazeh thought it up when fellow comedian Nikolas Khoury issued him the “ice bucket challenge” earlier this summer.

“When I uploaded my 'rubble bucket challenge' video, the only videos going viral were the ALS ice bucket challenge,” Darwazeh wrote in an email Wednesday, Aug. 27. “I sat down with myself and thought about how I can bring awareness to what’s happening to Gaza’s children in a way that is most relevant to what is actually happening to them. I came up with the idea from my heart.”

Maysam Yusef, a university student in Gaza, caught wind of the video and thought it could become a movement. She contacted Darwazeh to ask for permission to start a Facebook page called the Rubble Bucket Challenge. It garnered more than 7,000 “likes” in just five days.

The ALS stunt raises research money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the degenerative nerve illness better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Participants are asked to either donate $10 and pour ice water over their heads or donate $100 and stay dry. Videos of Americans and celebrities participating in the challenge have become a phenomenon and raised record sums for the ALS Association.

But as good philanthropy goes, there are far more effective ways to make a difference than funding research into a rare disease with little hope of a medical breakthrough in the near future. “There are thousands of charitable organizations out there that could really use the money going to ALS – could use it to make the world a better place today,” Felix Salmon wrote in Slate last weekend. “Some are medicine-based, treating the sick around the world; others might be in areas such as education, or clean water, or animal rescue, or the arts, or simply just giving money to poor people.”

As awful a disease as ALS may be, there are other problems in the world that affect a far greater number of people. Only two in 100,000 Americans will ever be diagnosed with ALS.

What will and won’t go “viral” in the social media sense is difficult to predict, and issues such as potable water don’t have viral marketing budgets. So many activists have decided that if you can’t beat them, join them, and have adapted the ALS challenge like Darwazeh did. In India, they’re using a rice bucket and challenging Indians to donate a bucket of rice to someone in need. In the United States, some Californians have dumped sand over their heads to drive home the severity of the three-year drought there.

According to the World Food Program, India is home to a quarter of the world’s undernourished people. California declared a drought emergency in January. In Gaza, a 50-day war has left more than 2,200 dead.

The rubble bucket challenge doesn’t ask for donations.

“Our campaign does not aim at collecting donations because the money will not bring the so many innocent souls back to life and we cannot begin to rebuild Gaza unless the Israeli attacks stop,” Yusef wrote in an email. “Our campaign is more of a social media revolution where people show their solidarity with Gaza and publicly reject the killing of civilians.”

When Palestinian journalist Ayman Aloul took the challenge on Monday, he stood in front of a destroyed building with dust billowing around him.

“We looked for a bucket of water, but the use of water is more important than to empty over our heads,” he said. “We do not have water, but this is what we have.”