Having ploughed through several websites, I think I now know how the Israeli art student scam works. The paintings are produced in China, using inferior oil paints, sold to wholesalers in various countries for $5 each, and then picked up by backpackers, mainly Israeli, who sell them house to house for $150 or $200. The 'art students' profess a poor knowledge of English or whatever the local language is, perhaps to avoid awkward questions. They usually claim to have a contact who will frame the picture for a further fee. There is no money-back guarantee. Exactly what the arrangement with the wholesaler is I don't know; it may be a package including the air ticket to the target country.
It may seem innocent enough, young Israelis desperate to get out of Israel and finding a way to fund their trip, but the economics of it are horrible. The Chinese painters get a miserable wage, the wholesalers presumably make an excellent living, and the Israelis get a lengthy trip at the expense of the naive householders who buy the pictures. To put things into perspective, the GDP per head in The West Bank in 2002 was $759 per head and falling; in Gaza it was $576 and falling still faster - roughly the profit on three or four pictures!
There is a general case for making doorstep sales illegal. There is always an element of moral pressure, with the salesperson evoking pity. The longer the bargaining goes on the harder it is to turn him or her away without feeling bad. And vulnerable people - the aged, the infirm, the housebound - are always going to be at risk of exploitation. Short of banning such sales, we should publicize the scam. It only goes on because too many people fall for it. So tell all your friends: beware of Israeli art students! For my part, as long as there is no peace and justice for Palestinians, I am boycotting Israeli goods, even when they are made in China!