MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Secretary of State John Kerry visits Jerusalem and Ramallah beginning tomorrow, in his effort to get Palestinians and Israelis to re-open peace talks. But even if political leaders come together, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are more separated than ever. In part that's because of the Israeli-built barrier - mostly fence and barbed wire, sometimes a wall - that is now nearly complete. NPR's Emily Harris reports on the shadow that barrier now casts over any potential negotiations.
EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Israeli army Captain Barak Raz climbs a metal staircase to the top of a section of the barrier that is a high concrete wall.
CAPTAIN BARAK RAZ: So right now we're basically standing in the area that is between the village of Bil'in and the Israeli city that's Modi'in Illit.
HARRIS: That's the same Bil'in featured in the Oscar-nominated documentary "5 Broken Cameras." The barrier here used to be a fence. After many confrontations with soldiers, Palestinian villagers won a court case, and the fence was moved off some of their land. But since it was then closer to the Israeli settlement of Modi'in Illit, it was rebuilt as a wall. Israel started constructing the barrier in 2002. That year, more than 400 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks.
RAZ: We can certainly see that the security fence has its, you know, huge benefits. Controversial as it may be, no one can argue with the statistics that it simply brought an end to that free flow of terrorism, especially when you couple it with all of our counterterrorism efforts and all the other, you know, routine security operations that we conduct in order to maintain this overall level of security stability.
HARRIS: Not everyone agrees.
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: By the way, when they say that this wall is providing security, it's not true.
HARRIS: Mustafa Barghouti is a Palestinian political leader.
BARGHOUTI: There is no bombing because Palestinians have chosen a different path. There is a decision not to do military actions, a decision to stick to nonviolence. And the wall is not effective from a military perspective. The proof to that is that today I managed to cross and penetrate the wall and go to Jerusalem, and they couldn't stop me.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in foreign language)
HARRIS: Barghouti is attending a regular protest in a valley near Bethlehem where the wall, as currently planned, would separate Palestinians from their agricultural land. The father leading the service calls it an apartheid wall. Palestinian political analyst Asa'd Ewaiwi says that because the barrier shrinks the land Palestinians have access to, it makes peace talks with Israel impossible.
ASA'D EWAIWI: (Through Translator) It actually destroys the option of negotiations. This is a political wall rather than a security wall as claimed by the Israelis. It destroys also the option of a two-state solution.
HARRIS: Israeli professor Efraim Inbar argues the opposite.
EFRAIM INBAR: I think that the Arabs should be happy that we built a fence because it marks a potential border. In my view, it solidifies Israel's willingness for partition of the land of Israel.
HARRIS: Some parts of the barrier resemble a border between two countries already. And, like any border, Israel knows the barrier isn't impenetrable. Security officials point to a bus bombing in Tel Aviv last November as a prime example. Still, the fence-and-wall combination has brought a sense of protection to many Israelis, says Shlomo Brom, with the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. He says that might help or might hurt negotiations.
SHLOMO BROM: On one end, you need security and no terrorist actions to enable real negotiations. But on the other end, if everything is quiet and secure, there is no real pressure on Israel to do anything.
HARRIS: It almost certainly will take pressure to get Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table. As well as digging into political divides, Secretary Kerry will pass through the barrier separating the two sides several times during his visit here. Emily Harris, NPR News, Jerusalem.