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2006-09-19

Business Owners, Workers Charge Israel Deliberately Targeted Lebanon’s Economy

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Business owners and factory workers in Lebanon are charging that Israel deliberately targeted the Lebanese economy in its month-long offensive. Democracy Now! producer Ana Nogueira files a report from Beirut on the long-lasting effects of the conflict on Lebanon’s economy. [includes rush transcript]

We turn now to Lebanon. The Israeli military’s chief of staff was quoted as saying the Israeli army will complete a pullout from southern Lebanon within a few days.

Ran Cohen, a legislator with the left-wing Meretz party, said Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz told him all troops would return to Israel by the Jewish New Year, which begins at sunset on Friday.

There are currently 4,600 international troops in southern Lebanon under a United Nations mandate. The UN-brokered ceasefire in August ended the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

The month-long conflict killed over 1,000 Lebanese, mostly civilians and wounded many more. Over 150 Israelis, mostly soldiers, were also killed. While the death toll and destruction of infrastructure in Lebanon have been widely reported. What are the long-lasting effects on Lebanon’s economy? Democracy Now producer Ana Nogueira filed this report from Beirut.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

ANA NOGUEIRA: As the dust settles on the bombed ruins of Lebanon, the long-term economic effects of the war are coming into dramatic focus. The Lebanese government has put the cost of reconstruction at $10 billion, but that figure is dwarfed by the indirect effects of Israeli strikes to Lebanon’s economy. 900 factories, farms and small businesses have been damaged or destroyed. Power stations, water treatment plants and hundreds of roads and bridges will cost millions to repair. The country’s unemployment rate is at a staggering 75%. Wajih Bizri, president of the Lebanese International Chamber of Commerce, estimates that over $200 million in direct damage was inflicted on the industrial sector, with dairy, cement, glass and prefab housing factories hit hardest.

WAJIH BIZRI: In the industrial sector, there were many factories hit, and there’s absolutely no reason, we see. Many of the places that were hit had nothing to do with any fighting or any arms or whatever, like factories for dairy products, factories for prefabricated houses, factories for glass bottles and paper mills and timber. All the factories, they had nothing to do with the war. The only reason they were hit, they were because they wanted to destroy or affect the industry.

ANA NOGUEIRA: Maliban, the second largest glassworks in the Middle East, with production reaching some 200 tons a day, sells not only to Lebanon, but to Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Cyprus, Algeria, and even many parts of Europe. The factory was destroyed by Israeli missiles on July 19th, the sixth day of the war. This is Maliban’s assistant general manager, Muhieddine Nikhalawi.

MUHIEDDINE NIKHALAWI: Israel attacked us suddenly with five missiles, and they destroyed the company, the factory, completely. And all the machinery and [inaudible], everything collapsed. Machinery become in pieces. And it will take time, not less than eight months to one year, if we start building now. Nobody knows what’s in their mind. But I believe they are destroying everything, and we are in a very big crisis. We have nearly 500 hungry families [inaudible] money from here: transporters, suppliers, all they are surviving with Maliban [inaudible] factory.

ANA NOGUEIRA: Maliban has had to suspend over 200 worker contracts. Tufi El-Hindi is one of the few factory workers lucky enough to still have a job. Tasked now with clearing up rubble, he says it’s clear to him why they were attacked.

TUFI EL-HINDI: [translated] Competition, this is why [inaudible], because they sell to Egypt, Turkey, other countries, so he thinks it’s less competition. You cannot explain it in another way. This is it.

ANA NOGUEIRA: Several managers of the hardest hit factories agree. Dalal is one of the biggest steel and prefab housing manufacturers in all of the Middle East. It even lists the U.S. Army in Iraq as an indirect client. The factory was destroyed on July 23rd in an Israeli air strike. This is Dalal’s general manager, Georges Hanna.

GEORGES HANNA: They hit everything: 25,000 square meter coverage area, factories, all of them damaged. And we have 12,000 square meter yard, a storage area with prefabricated houses ready to ship to Iraq and some hangars to [inaudible}. All of them are damaged now. We think it’s about — they have also some factories who made the same products like us, and they made this attack to eliminate us from the market.

ANA NOGUEIRA: Liban Lait, the country’s largest dairy farm, is another widely cited example of a factory bombed by Israel for reasons of economic competition. In 2001, the company won a $15,000 per week contract to supply the United Nations interim force in Lebanon with dairy products. Prior to that, the contract was held by an Israeli firm. This is Michel Waked, the company’s director.

MICHEL WAKED: We were quite respectable, I think. Quite respectable trademark on the market. And we had, I think, one of the best dairies in the area. UNIFIL switched from Israel to us. And this is the reason, you know, because they were satisfied with our quality, with the milk, with everything. And we have been supplying them for the past five years, milk, until we were bombed.

ANA NOGUEIRA: Israel has said it bombed facilities it suspected of housing munitions for Hezbollah. But Liban Lait’s Christian Maronite owner says the claim is ridiculous.

MICHEL WAKED: When you have a contract with the United Nations, and the United Nations contract, they say, you know, they can inspect the factory any time they want. So, second, we had the contact people. They come here very often, and they live on the site. And they know every corner of the factory. Hezbollah, are they so stupid to come and put their bombs here? If all — they come and put in a dairy who has a contract with the United Nations and who produces a dairy license from a French company, and we have engineers, foreign engineers. Will they put their bombs here?

You know, this is the third time our factory get destroyed. Three times. In '82, the same thing happened. I was the founder of [inaudible] before. I used to be the chairman of [inaudible]. And when the Israelis entered, the same thing happened. It's not the first time. So how can you consider Israeli as a friend, or whatever? You always consider Israel the enemy. And the only dairy who can compete with them is us.

ANA NOGUEIRA: All the factories are asking for funds from the Lebanese government for reconstruction. But with only $1 billion in aid so far, the country’s priorities right now rest with rebuilding roads, water treatment plants and electricity systems. It will be years before Lebanon returns to being the prosperous country it was only a few weeks ago. For Democracy Now!, this is Ana Nogueira Lebanon.

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