As Gaza Burns, Twitch Charity Streams For Palestine Remain Few And Far Between

As Gaza Burns, Twitch Charity Streams For Palestine Remain Few And Far Between

The situation in Gaza is dire. Israeli raids have killed over 200 Palestinians in the past week, at least 42 of them on Sunday alone. They’ve also destroyed more than 500 homes, leaving tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless — a stunningly bleak continuation of decades of apartheid and aggression. During tragedies and crises affecting other regions, Twitch streamers have rallied to raise substantial sums of money to aid those whose lives and livelihoods have been reduced to rubble. When it comes to Palestine, however, charity streams have been relatively few and far between.

Charity is an extricable part of Twitch’s DNA. Countless streamers and organisations have used it as a means of adding meaning to their broadcasts, boosting their brands, or some combination of the two. At any given moment, hundreds of Twitch streamers are hosting charity streams, in which they play specific games, attempt various stunts, or marathon-stream until they drop to raise money for charities of their choosing.

Many high-profile Twitch events have included a component of charity. For example, breakout star Ludwig Ahgren donated a chunk of the gargantuan sum of money he made during his recent record-breaking one-month subathon to the Humane Society of America and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. This giving spirit regularly extends to crises as well; last year, streamers banded together to raise millions of dollars in response to emergencies ranging from Australian bushfires to American police brutality against Black people. In the latter case, high-profile streamers also took time to educate viewers on the ugly echoes of racism that continue to ping around in the halls of U.S. institutions to this day.

The response to the escalating crisis in and around Gaza has been comparatively muted. Big-name Twitch streamers have largely been absent from the discussion, with a handful, like Ben “Dr Lupo” Lupo and Ali “Myth” Kabbani, raising awareness on Twitter while others remain completely silent. The biggest exception to this rule has been Hasan Piker, a leftist Twitch star who regularly discusses news and world events. He’s taken time during his stream to cover the Israeli government’s attacks on Palestinians nearly every day for the past week. Over the weekend, he also brought on GameSpot managing editor Tamoor Hussain to discuss IGN’s controversial removal of a post that recommended a variety of Palestinian charities. Other leftist personalities have also used Twitch as a means of chipping in, with popular podcast Chapo Trap House raising over $US100,000 ($128,260) for Eye On Palestine, Islamic Relief’s Palestine Emergency Fund, and Movement to Safeguard Palestinian Communities over the weekend.

A sizable percentage of Palestine charity streams, however, have been hosted by smaller streamers with little in the way of ties to Twitch’s upper crust.

Image: Sahar Hakim
Image: Sahar Hakim

“I haven’t seen much support from big streamers or content creators,” Sahar “Omnistruck” Hakim, a half-Arab streamer who dedicated all of last week to raising money for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, told Kotaku in an email. “To be frank, I even have vivid memories over the last few days of practically begging people on my social media avenues to talk about this issue. It’s been exhausting looking at picture after picture, watching video after video, just to make others see how serious this is, how long it’s been going on, and just how much of a role the U.S. has played in this destruction.”

As of now, Hakim has raised just below $US600 ($770), a humble amount compared to what bigger streamers have proven themselves capable of raking in. But they believe that every bit counts.

“I think, to a degree, every human has some capability and responsibility to help others, including and especially in times of crisis,” Hakim said. “Some of us are on the front lines protesting. Some provide medical care and social-emotional relief. Some take more political action by running for office or even writing to representatives. And still others take the steps to educate the people around them. The problem crops up when people take on no roles at all.”

The root of the problem on Twitch is harder to pin down. The Serfs, a smaller leftist channel run by two streamers, told Kotaku that “no one wants to be Jeremy Corbyn’ed,” referencing the accusations of antisemitism leveled at the former leader of Britain’s left-leaning Labour Party, which supports Palestine and a two-state solution. During The Serfs’ own charity stream last week, which raised over $US5,000 ($6,413) for Islamic Relief Canada, some viewers attempted to do exactly that.

“There was a decent amount of trolls popping [up] saying that I supported Hamas,” The Serfs told Kotaku in a DM. “I made a clear point of repeatedly (almost every hour on the hour) condemning vocally the actions of Hamas and also [noting] that the actions of the far-right apartheid regime of Benjamin Netanyahu [don’t] reflect upon Jewish people anymore than the monarchy of Saudi Arabia does upon Muslims.”

The Serfs noted, however, that their stream chat was hardly divided along Jewish vs Palestinian lines: “I was overwhelmed at how many Jewish people actually donated with comments like ‘Sending love and solidarity to our Palestinian brothers and sisters being slaughtered by an apartheid state.’”

Others pointed to a bigger issue for many streamers, which is a broader lack of understanding among people in Western countries like the U.S. and U.K. — where many popular Twitch streamers are based. That, of course, is not an accident, but rather a result of those countries’ financial support of the Israeli government.

“The messaging around what is happening is delivered in ways that push people away from reaching an understanding instead of towards it,” Hussain, who also streams on Twitch in addition to working at GameSpot, told Kotaku in a DM. “This has always been the case for the oppression of Palestinians, as the media frequently frames the conversation as being politically complex, while also using language that dehumanises Palestinians…The footage shown in traditional media is rarely of the real losses Palestinians face on a daily basis — that instead comes from people filming their homes being bombed, family being killed, or community members being displaced with the support of the police. The end result of obfuscating that loss is Palestinians becoming an abstract faceless group, and it’s much harder to empathise with that than a person you can see is suffering.”

Nazih Fares, a Lebanese games industry professional and part-time streamer who lived through multiple wars between Lebanon and Israel, believes that these depictions make alternative media sources — like streamers — all the more important.

“What’s going on in Palestine has been happening for more than 70 years now, and I really want more people to educate themselves in what’s happening, because if you’re not going to hear about it from traditional media outlets, then you’ll hear it from word of mouth,” Fares, who is currently putting all of his Twitch stream revenue toward the Medical Aid for Palestinians charity, told Kotaku in a DM.

Lack of understanding means that even when streamers’ tax dollars directly fund Israeli aggression, rendering them complicit, they worry about wading into a discussion they’re not fully equipped to handle. Freddie “Badlinu” Hackett, a 17-year-old who has nearly 200,000 Twitch followers and is friends with Minecraft megastar TommyInnit, is one of the bigger Twitch streamers to host a Palestine charity stream so far. Speaking to Kotaku, he admitted to being “nervous” going into his weekend stream despite having followed the plight of Palestinians “for quite a few years now.”

Image: Nazih Fares
Image: Nazih Fares

“I think that one of the reasons bigger streamers are so hesitant to help out in a situation like this is due to lack of understanding,” Hackett said. “It is much easier to represent a charity surrounding topics like mental health, as we all experience this firsthand. This makes it much easier to be passionate, as you can talk about it from your own experiences…I think that as an influencer anything you say can make an impact, but it is important that they understand exactly what they are talking about. I was very educated around what was going on in Palestine and have known about it for years, whereas some people are hearing about it for the first time.”

But Hakim contends that the complexity that’s scaring off some streamers is actually just a smokescreen.

“Society and, particularly, the media have gone to great lengths to frame this as a ‘complex conflict’ between Israel and Palestine where both sides are to blame,” they said, “rather than the straightforward ethnic cleansing, settler colonialism, and apartheid it really is.”

Underlying, Twitch-specific structural elements are also partially to blame for the dearth of Palestine charity streams on Twitch. In recent years, a fundraising platform called Tiltify has become near-ubiquitous among those who host charity streams. Tiltify’s Twitch extension provides tools, on-screen alerts, and a whole host of other features that allow streamers to raise money for charities in just a few clicks. Charities like St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital have benefited tremendously from this, becoming household names on the platform.

Currently, Tiltify does not list any Palestine-specific charities. This has led some, like Hussain, to call for Tiltify to rectify the issue by adding organisations like the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. However, in an email to Kotaku, a Tiltify spokesperson said that registered 501c3 nonprofits need only sign up to be listed. The PCRF is dealing with troubles of its own right now — yesterday an Israeli airstrike hit the building that contained its Gaza office (thankfully, no staff were present) — but in an email to Kotaku, a PCRF spokesperson said the organisation signed up for Tiltify yesterday and is now awaiting approval.

Until a range of Palestine-related charities are available on platforms like Tiltify, it means streamers will encounter a level of friction that, however small, might prevent them from lending their platforms to the cause.

“Tiltify does not have any Palestinian charities as of today,” said Hackett. “This could definitely impact the number of streamers doing charity streams on it.”

While bigger streamers generate money from a plethora of different sources, the sword can cut both ways. Brands have proven extremely wary of endorsing Palestine, and streamers risk a portion of their livelihoods by getting involved. Hussain, however, pointed out that some streamers almost certainly took similar risks in endorsing Black Lives Matter last year.

“I think it’s important to recognise that streamers that operate on that scale with a big platform certainly have to reckon with the prospect of receiving backlash from people, brands, and sponsors,” he said. “Taking a stand in a situation that has been so heavily politicised always carries a risk. But what I’d say to those people is: You did it before, why can’t you do it again?”

People from Gaza and nearby regions risk putting themselves in even hotter water just by speaking out. Game developer, speaker, and consultant Rami Ismail pointed to “arrests” and “visa worries” as potential consequences, and Fares noted that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has bottlenecked anybody who wants to raise money into a single, government-created website that doesn’t appear to list any Palestinian charities by making it illegal to fundraise without obtaining a permit from authorities under rules that include “a regulation of combating terrorism and financing it.”

Abdallah Al Ghifari, a Palestinian esports league owner, streamer, and caster whose father has been stuck in Gaza for more than a year, told Kotaku that he’s not hosting a charity stream due to potential political fallout. He believes, though, that support from others in his field matters now more than ever.

“If influencers can’t support, especially during this social media era, or impact by educating and spreading the truth about the Palestinian [cause], then the war can’t be won,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “Famous bloggers and influencers are going on live calls with people that actually live in Palestine and are witnessing the forced occupation and terror caused by Israelis. However, they’re Arabs, and they might not have a high reach such as people from outside. If people with higher reach, non-Arabs or even Arabs, unite to spread the word whether by streaming or posting on social media, then the world will know the truth and decisions might be affected.”

Image: Vaush
Image: Vaush

For now, high-profile Twitch streamers remain conspicuously quiet, but things are trending in an encouraging direction. With a stream that kicked off yesterday, leftist YouTube streamer Vaush has raised over $US200,000 ($256,520) for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, and other leftist YouTubers, like Shaun, have also stepped up to the tune of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, gaming-focused YouTube collective Kinda Funny announced a stream in support of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund scheduled for later this week. On top of that, other streamers now have an easier means of helping out, as popular streaming software and extension company Streamlabs added Medical Aid for Palestinians to its list of charity options yesterday.

Streamers are first and foremost entertainers, so there is always, as The Serfs put it, a “balance” to be struck when it comes to helping out during tumultuous times. “We’re all struggling internally with our own sense of hypocrisy,” they said. “There’s this weird phenomenon sometimes of people taking subs and bits and acting as if [it’s] revolutionary when it’s just a job.”

But, they added, if you genuinely want things to change, you have to “shine a light on what’s happening and how you can help.” Hakim agrees and believes that, whether your platform is large or small, you possess at least a small kernel of responsibility.

“Palestinians want to be heard and seen. They tell us so on social media. They post videos on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram,” they said. “Why should we play arbiter, pick and choose whose lives matter more than others, and in so doing deny them their justice? Why should we, as people who have built strong communities over months and years, as people who have strong voices, not use what we have cultivated for the benefit of those who need it?”