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  • Ethan Rogacion

LAWS 378 Exam Includes “Offensive and Dangerous” Question on Gaza


The end of the trimester is normally pretty stressful, even in the best of circumstances. We’re all pretty familiar with that struggle, but spare a thought for anyone that took LAWS 379: Dispute Resolution last trimester. In their final, highly time sensitive, 40% weighted test, students were asked to position themselves as a peace negotiator between Israel and Hamas during a hypothetical ceasefire, and to facilitate “mediation”.

Student Justice for Palestine Pōneke described the inclusion of the question as “offensive and dangerous”, stressing that “Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine and genocide in Gaza is not a hypothetical scenario or intellectual exercise; it is a current injustice which our university and government have been at best silent on, and at worst complicit in.”

The test question offered students little context, reducing a genocidal campaign to “widespread death and destruction”—a phrase that could just as easily describe the aftermath of extreme weather as it does the land dispossession and ethnic cleansing currently unfolding in Gaza. 

Gaza is referred to as a “Palestinian territory” in the test. No reference is made to the fact that the state of Israel exists on occupied Palestinian land forcibly taken during the 1948 Nakba. Further, the question unequivocally asserts that the goal of the Israeli invasion of Gaza is “to destroy Hamas,” equating Israel and Hamas as conventional adversaries in a “war”. This is despite an enormous power imbalance, and constant, explicitly genocidal rhetoric from members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet. 

In May, ICC Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan KC said that, while part of Israel’s aim may be to destroy Hamas, they are equally interested in “collectively [punishing] the civilian population of Gaza.” This has lead to the deaths of more children in Gaza in the last five months than across all of Russia's war on Ukraine, the indiscriminate bombing of civilian population centres, and the extrajudicial killing and torture of Palestinians. “These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day,” said Khan. Authoritatively representing events so entirely devoid of context displays, at best, incredible negligence. 

Responding to suggestions that forcing students to place themselves in a neutral, arbitral role without prior warning is irresponsible, Provost Prof. Bryony James told Salient that, while it is relatively normal for academic thinkers to consider highly charged topics like the genocide in Gaza, “we are mindful … of the need to pay careful attention to the ways in which we discuss these topics and the forums where these discussions take place.” 

The statement added, “The University will …ensure that students do not encounter highly sensitive topics for the first time in a high-pressure, timed assessment, and that such material is only included if its inclusion is necessary for robust assessment of course material.” It is important to stress here that concern around the exam question has universally revolved around its value-loaded framing and exam context—not the presence of a “highly sensitive topic” alone. 

The Dean of Law, Prof Lee Godden, has confirmed in a statement that students “adversely affected by the inclusion of the question, will be offered the opportunity to have their overall final grade in the course [adjusted] based on a reweighted combination of … assessment items”. Godden did not respond to request for comment. 

In a statement to Salient, the VUWLSS Executive 2024 said that, “Since discovering the issue regarding the LAWS 379 final exam, VUWLSS' primary focus is working with VUWSA and the Faculty of Law to address this issue and ensure that student voices are heard throughout this process.”

VUWLSS advises that impacted students can reach out to them on or 


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