Palestinian Costumes Vanish at Los Angeles Airport

By Hanley, Delinda C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 2004 | Go to article overview

Palestinian Costumes Vanish at Los Angeles Airport


Hanley, Delinda C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The official search for irreplaceable Palestinian costumes which vanished Nov. 1 at Los Angeles Airport's Terminal 4 has ended. The Palestine Costume Archive's traveling exhibit "Symbolic Defiance: Palestinian Costume and Embroidery Since 1948" disappeared on its way to the Middle East Studies Association's (MESA) 2003 conference, held in Anchorage, Alaska.

Archive director Jeni Allenby, who was accompanying the exhibit, had been invited to present a paper on, ironically, the problems regarding the acquisition and display of Palestinian cultural heritage in Western museums. Little did she know that the greatest difficulty the traveling exhibit had ever faced would occur within the U.S. airport security system, recently beefed up after the Sept. 11 tragedies.

After arriving at the Los Angeles Airport from Sydney, Allenby handed over to security personnel the collection, packed in a large, padded suede garment bag made for couriering museum textiles. International flights arriving in Los Angeles funnel luggage and passengers traveling onward to other U.S. cities through this customs security transit area. Transit bags are x-rayed before being collected by internal airport couriers and transferred to domestic terminals, where they are loaded onto their next flight.

After turning over the bag, Allenby proceeded as directed to the Alaska Airlines terminal to fly to Anchorage via Seattle. When she arrived in Alaska she discovered the exhibition was missing, and immediately reported the loss.

An Alaska Airlines search uncovered the fact that the exhibition had disappeared either during or immediately after the transit area security examination. The bag never made it to the Alaskan Airlines terminal, and internal airport couriers had never been called to pick it up. all security personnel and baggage handlers in that transit area denied seeing or examining the exhibition's bag, despite the fact that Allenby had handed it over to one of them herself. There is no computer tracking record of the bag after Nov. 1.

Allenby has nothing but praise for Alaska Airlines staff in Anchorage, who, she said, tried very hard to locate the exhibition. Following airline policy, after five days the search was transferred to Alaska Airlines' central baggage office in Seattle. For a month Allenby's requests for updates from Seattle were ignored. Finally, in a letter dated Dec. 17, Alaska Airlines stated their file on this matter is now closed and a check was in the mail to compensate the Palestine Costume Archive for the loss of its traveling exhibit. The check's total, 1634.90, was calculated at the rate of $9.07 per pound to a maximum of 70 pounds. Irreplaceable Palestinian heritage, in the form of historical handmade costumes and embroidery, was accorded the same value as a lost suitcase packed with clothes and toiletries.

Alaska Airlines did not respond to queries, or comment on this article.

The Palestine Costume Archive was established for safety reasons in Canberra, Aus- . tralia in the early 1980s, after Israel destroyed the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) cultural heritage collections in Tunis and Beirut. The nonprofit Archive's mission is to preserve and promote Palestinian and Middle Eastern cultural heritage until it can return to and remain safely in a museum in Palestine. In 2002 this museum-quality traveling exhibition program, along with other educational programs, reached more than 33,000 people in Australia, Europe and the United States. …

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