A CRUCIAL Somerset Council meeting was temporarily halted following a vocal protest against the war in Gaza.

Somerset Council’s executive committee met at Deane House in Taunton on Wednesday morning (February 7) to discuss its budget proposals in the wake of a projected budget gap of £100m for the coming financial year.

In addition to raising council tax and making around £35m of savings, the council proposes to close the budget gap by selling off the commercial investments it inherited from the four district councils – including offices at Aztec West 600, within a business park on the northern edge of Bristol.

But this did not go far enough for members of Palestine Action, who urged the council to evict the current tenant of the offices – Elbit Systems, an Israeli-based defence contractor which had supplied the Israeli army with equipment since 1966.

Palestine Action describes itself as “a direct action network of groups and individuals” who target companies “complicit in Israeli apartheid” against the Palestinian people, causing for such companies to be evicted from their existing premises and shut down.

The offices at Aztec West 600 – near junction 16 of the M5 –  were purchased by Sedgemoor District Council in 2020, with Somerset Council inheriting the investment when it assumed power in April 2023.

The leasehold of the property lists both Elbit Systems UK and Elbit Systems Ltd (based in Haifa, Israel) as named parties.

Several protesters disrupted the beginning of the meeting in Taunton, arguing that merely selling off the property was not enough and calling on the council to terminate Elbit’s lease.

One protester stated: “As a Somerset resident who has been to Palestine and seen Israel’s war crimes first-hand, I feel sick that you have made me complicit in that.

“In December, you voted to call for a ceasefire. How can you claim to want a ceasefire whilst you’re harbouring the war criminals which makes the genocide possible?

“You’ve made the people of Somerset participants in the war crimes taking place against the Palestinian people and we will not allow this to happen in our name.

“The people of Somerset never wanted this and selling off the property doesn’t absolve us of our responsibility.

“The least you can do now is terminate the lease. Evict Elbit now!”

The council had previously responded to similar complaints, stating that there was no legal route to terminate Elbit’s current lease – an argument which lawyers representing Palestine Action branded “dubious”.

The meeting was suspended for around 15 minutes while the protesters were escorted out of the council chamber.

Upon the resumption of the meeting, council leader Bill Revans made a brief statement regarding the claims made by the protesters.

He said: “This relates to a commercial investment we inherited from one of our district council predecessors, which has a tenant associated with the conflict in Gaza.

“They raise some legitimate concerns, and we are happy to meet with them to discuss the matter.

“We are disposing of the commercial investments, and this is within the first tranche of properties being disposed of.”

The full council will set its budget for the coming financial year in Bridgwater on February 20 from 10am.