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Write Up: Disarm Kōrero 18 IHL, Military Technology and the war in Gaza

March 26, 2024

Earlier this month, on March 15, the Disarmament and Security Centre held its second Disarm Kōrero of the year on International Humanitarian Law, Military Technology, and the War in Gaza. We were joined by Dr. Jeremy Moses (Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, UC) and our very own DSC Chair Dr. Treasa Dunworth (Associate Professor of Law, UoA). We had a large number of attendees, possibly the biggest number we’ve had for our online sessions, which shows the level of concern across Aotearoa regarding this ongoing conflict. 

As it was 5 years to the day since the horrific Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks, DSC Programme Manager Lucy Stewart first acknowledged this tragedy and reminded us of the need to remember the victims and their loved ones. As well, she said, we need to learn from this most horrific event to continue to strive to promote peace and tolerance in our societies.


Dr. Treasa Dunworth gave her presentation first, focusing on the legal developments arising out of the war in Gaza. She explained that there is litigation coming out of several countries (such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) which can be categorised as “bottom-up” developments of the law. Here, we see litigation brought by citizens and human rights groups challenging governments for dealing in arms with Israel. There’s even an Australian law firm that has referred a case to the International Criminal Court which would deliberate whether to place individual criminal responsibility on members of the Australian government. 

Treasa also gave an overview of the sources of international-based law that play a part here.

This includes international humanitarian law (IHL), the genocide convention, and the Rome Statute. (The Rome Statute governs the International Criminal Court and gives it jurisdiction to try individuals for the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity).

She then related this back to New Zealand, which is party to a number of the treaties that establish these laws. Each of them confer legal obligations on New Zealand to do what we can, likely involving us calling on Israel and Hamas both to ‘retreat’. Ultimately, New Zealand does have agency to act on this issue and has legal obligations to do so.

Treasa also pointed out that, while New Zealand holds itself out as promoting a rules-based order, this is more than simply a foreign policy choice. Again, it is a legal obligation.


Dr. Jeremy Moses spoke next about the media coverage of two pieces of emerging technology being used by the Israel Defence Forces: the Habsora (Gospel) artificial intelligence platform and robotic quadrupeds.

Jeremy also noted how the use of this technology related to the political economy of weapons in the Gaza war. Around the world, the use of this technology by the IDF is being watched in an almost ‘experimental’ way.

The Artificial Intelligence Habsora technology is allegedly being used to determine IDF targets. Jeremy noted that there are conflicting narratives being presented in media coverage of its use. On the one hand, the use of this military technology seems to be more ‘clean’ and ‘legal’, and thus more humanitarian. On the other hand, however, IDF officials speak about how they’re “not being surgical” and boasting about the mass destruction that they are causing.

Jeremy stressed the need to be careful when engaging in the wider (military) AI discourse. Even campaigners with the best intentions seeking to abolish this kind of technology (such as lethal autonomous weapons systems) are feeding into a problematic discourse that humans would make better decisions than AI. Jeremy explains that this downplays the role of humans in war. Even when AI is adopted in target selection, the humans behind the machine don’t have to act on it, for example.

The reporting on the use by the IDF of robotic quadrupeds is also problematic, Jeremy explained. A Haaretz article described their use as “an effort to avoid harming soldiers and dogs”, conveying that they are a more humane technology. However, the lives of Palestinian civilians are being ignored here. They have already been dehumanised before this technology entered into use. Again, this demonstrates the dangerous role humans play in warfare, irrespective of the use of technology. Jeremy also mentioned that these new technologies pose new problems such as the level of surveillance and the amount of data they produce.


Further reading on the topic:

NZ's Legal obligations to the world court ruling on Israel.

'The Gospel': How Israel uses AI to select bombing targets in Gaza.

Gaza becomes Israel's testing ground for military robots.

ATT Monitor, February 20, 2024. Vol 16, No 1.

Gaza and NZ Foreign Policy

NZ must play its part in ending genocide.

Statement in support of academic freedom on Israel and Palestine in Aotearoa New Zealand

Aotearoa Educators for Academic Freedom on Israel and Palestine

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