This week, Reveal takes you along the U.S.-Mexico border for a close-up look at the challenges to sealing off the divide. President Donald Trump has pointed to Israel as a model to emulate when building walls. So, we took you to a couple of the barriers in the Middle East, too. 

In reporting for the show, producer Emily Harris spoke to Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar. Right now, Jarrar is studying art at the University of Arizona, but before starting this program, he spent four years documenting Palestinians illegally crossing the Israeli-built wall. It’s a barrier that twists in and around the West Bank, the area he calls home.

Last year, he toured the U.S.-Mexico border for a mobile art project with Culturunners, an organization that explores political and physical barriers. Along the way, he pried loose a rusty piece of the current wall – and turned it into a ladder. Click on the photo below to watch the making of “Khaled’s Ladder.”


Harris asked Jarrar how Palestinians cross the barrier from the West Bank into Israel.

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Khaled Jarrar: There (are) many, many different ways. Like you can climb the wall and jump. You can ask a smuggler to cut the fence for you. With the Israeli settlers, the ones who live in the West Bank, you paid them something like 200 bucks and they will cross you with their car, next to them. And because they are Jewish they will not be stopped. So you cross easily.

Emily Harris: How did you do it? The time you went to the (U.S. consulate), did you go up a ladder and down a rope? Or did you go through an open part of the fence? Or where it’s not built yet?

Jarrar: I don’t want to go (into) details about that because I was kind of interrogated.

Harris: I think some Americans would say they really are afraid of somebody coming and working for less money, and then lowering their wages and not being able to pay their bills. What would you say to them? They probably feel sort of hopeful about Trump’s promises of building a wall.

Jarrar: I am cynical here because he’s trying to promote that he will build the wall, but you already have the wall. From San Diego to El Paso, I crossed back and (forth) to Mexico last January and February. And I saw that some places you have like three walls and you have helicopters flying all the way and you have cameras all the way. So you have kind of like the maximum secure. So what kind of wall he’s building?

Harris: More than half of the U.S.-Mexico border doesn’t have any kind of fence or wall on it at all.

Jarrar: Yeah, but this half is in the desert and nobody will cross from there because people they are dying when they’re crossing there. There is this, like, also psychological part.

Because first of all to be able to build the wall on the ground they need to build the wall inside the mind of people. People are so anxious from others. Israelis are so anxious and afraid from the Palestinians, and they succeed to build the wall inside the Israeli mind to be able to build that on the ground. And in the U.S.A. it’s the same.

Harris: Tell me about your latest project, taking part of the U.S.-Mexican wall. What were you doing? How did you do it?

Jarrar: I was facing this ugly, this horrible wall at the beach of Tijuana. I literally wanted to take it out. Like to remove it from the face of the people.

And I saw some pieces from the old wall, because the old wall was rusty. And the sea, the wind of the sea is making it collapse.

But there was this piece that was welded into the new wall. So I started climbing a little, and I started pushing this piece with my hand. And I saw I will be able to remove it. So I took that piece. I want to have this object from the wall.

I want to test the boundaries of the system. Because this is Mexican side. And if all the Mexicans came – or like 10,000 Mexicans came or 1,000 Mexicans came – to the wall and started cutting the wall with their saw: Nobody can stop them.

This story was edited by Julia B. Chan. Emily Harris can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @emilygharris.

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Emily Harris is a former senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She previously served as an NPR international correspondent, based first in Berlin and later in Jerusalem. Her 2016 series on Israelis and Palestinians changing their minds about some aspect of their conflict won the Overseas Press Club’s Lowell Thomas Award, and her 2014 coverage of Gaza was honored with an Overseas Press Club citation. She also was part of the NPR team that won a 2004 Peabody Award for coverage in Iraq. Harris lived in and reported from Russia during the upheaval of the 1990s. In the U.S., she covered a range of beats for NPR’s Washington desk and reported jointly for NPR and PBS’ “Now” with Bill Moyers. Harris helped start and host “Think Out Loud,” a daily public affairs talk show on Oregon Public Broadcasting. She worked to evaluate and share new financial models for journalism as editorial director of the Journalism Accelerator startup. She’s drafted a screenplay about relationships born in war and collects audio stories of awful and mind-changing moments in people’s lives. Harris was based in Portland, Oregon.