The images above are of the Maliban bottling factory in the town of Chtoura on the road to Damascus in Lebanon’s historic Bekaa valley.
Or rather it was the Maliban bottling factory. Now it is a mess of twisted steel, broken glass and shattered concrete. I was there Tuesday on a two-day trip through the battered Bekaa returning Wednesday night.
The destruction of this modern bottling plant was mind-blowing. All the more so as it is owned by British Indian family from Uganda, the Madhvanis. For 40 years they have invested in the plant, and the people of the Bekaa. 360 employees and their families lived from the factory. Now all are unemployed and one who happened to be in the factory at 12.35pm on August 4 when four massive Israeli missiles hit the building, is dead.
The man in the picture above has managed the plant, which was one of the Lebanon’s biggest industrial enterprises exporting to the Middle East and Europe and turning over $26 million annually, for 34 years. His name is Aurobindo Roy Chowdhury.
‘We didn’t even hear the planes. If I hadn’t closed for business three days earlier 150 staff could have been dead. It is a disgrace,’ he says.
‘I lived here throughout the Civil War, the Israeli air raids of the 1990s, never did we close, and never did I think they would hit us. In all my years I can tell you no Hizbullah were ever here. This is a legitimate business enterprise that has been destroyed. Israel must pay to rebuild us.’
There is little doubt in Roy Chowdury’s mind, or Beirut Live’s, that this attack and the one on the Liban Lait milk factory halfway between Zahle and Baabeck (which produced exactly the same results as the pictures above) was designed to attack the people and damage Lebanon’s economy.
‘It would cost between $60 and $70 million to rebuild from here,’ he says, and there is no guarantee that the Madhvanis will do so considering the huge cost and the instability of the region.
One man in the factory told me that Israel always wanted to hit Maliban as the Madhvanis had declined to open their business in Israel way back in the 1960s.
What is certain is that this bombing which Israel has offered no concrete explanation for was designed to inflict maximum damage on the people of the Beqaa and any support they might have for Hizbullah and Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, as well as seriously harm Lebanon’s economy.
The Israeli policy seems to have been (I say seems because Israel never ever takes responsibility for actions it knows to be reprehensible - eg. Rachel Corrie), ‘if we cannot destroy the magical guerillas lets harm business.
45 factories were hit during the July campaign. None were proved to have Hizbullah fighters or any weapons inside. At Liban Lait even the cows were not spared Israel’s wrath.
And after 35 days of conflict no one has won anything and everybody has lost.
There is little doubt that there was a major economic objective to this war. Hurt the nation’s business and financial status as much as possible, put economic pressure on the government and perhaps that will cause them to blame Hizbullah and fight them, seems to have been the Israeli aim. What others are there?
‘There have never been weapons in this factory,’ says Roy Chowdury. ‘Never. And now the lives of hundreds have been placed in the balance. Shame on the Israeli prime minister.’
And oh what a surprise… the British Government, in its duty to its citizens and business wherever they are, hasn’t even bothered to a lodge an official complaint to Israel.