Unflagging Enthusiasm

Religious teenagers sell the blue and white at busy intersections and encounter a cross section of society

Over the last week or so, in advance of Independence Day, hundreds of flag sellers have taken up positions at main intersections throughout the country. Some are aggressive, waving their flags energetically and tapping on car windows. Others are quieter and approach only drivers who show some interest.

Yonatan Hevroni, who sells flags at the major Patt intersection in Jerusalem, is of the quiet kind. Nearly 18, Hevroni looks embarrassed about his job. With a shy smile he offers his wares only to those who ask for them.

Yonatan Hevroni

A few weeks ago signs were posted at his yeshiva high school, which is part of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva. Students were invited to buy flags wholesale and earn a little money by selling them on the street.

Like dozens of other yeshiva students, Hevroni accepted the offer. They bought a few hundred flags at NIS 1.6 each and are selling them for NIS 5. So they make NIS 3.4 apiece. In his first two days at the Patt intersection, Hevroni had already sold 100 flags. It's reasonable to assume that by the time this paper went to press he doubled or even tripled his profits.

After an unrepresentative survey of the capital's street corners, it became clear that there was no uniform price for flags. At the intersection nearest the Givat Ram neighborhood, flags were going for NIS 6, or two for NIS 10. Supermarket chain Rami Levi sells two for NIS 8, Hevroni says, but he sticks to NIS 5 for one.

All kinds of people are buying flags from the youth - "ultra-Orthodox, national religious and secular." But not Arabs. And he hasn't encountered Arabs selling Israeli flags. "The flag symbolizes pride in the country. I have pride when I raise a flag in front of Arabs: Jewish pride," Hevroni says.

"I'm not proud of the country. Look what the prime minister is doing to the settlers. Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] attacks us and causes problems for us. Every second he's evacuating settlements or outposts. I'd like a religious prime minister. It will happen when God wills it," says the youth.

His revulsion for Netanyahu does not stop him, however, from repeating some of the prime minister's favorite statements: "No matter how much we make peace with them [the Palestinians], it won't help. We evacuated Gush Katif [in the Gaza Strip] and got Qassam rockets in return," Hevroni declares. "They hate us. We have to settle everywhere in the country."

In his two days at the intersection so far, he heard from a few secular people "who don't have faith in the country." A few said to him, "Who has money to buy flags today?" There was also a woman driver who offered him rugelach (pastries ). "In general," he sums up, "it's great here."

Soon, when he finishes the yeshiva high school, Hevroni will join the army, seeking "the most serious combat duty possible." After that, he'll be on his way to a settlement.

"In the Negev or the Galilee, where there are also Arabs," he says. His grandmother, perhaps surprisingly, lives in Tel Aviv. "I haven't got anything against secular people, but I didn't like walking around Tel Aviv because there are a lot of girls dressed immodestly," he explains. He'll celebrate Independence Day, as usual, "with friends at a barbecue."

Eight people were killed during a terror attack at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, next to Hevroni's high school, in March 2008; among the victims were students and a graduate of the yeshiva. Near the Patt intersection, 19 people were killed and dozens wounded in a suicide attack on an Egged bus in June 2002. The suicide bomber was a member of Hamas.

Hevroni doesn't know where the flags he sells are made; it's not printed on them. But unlike in previous years, chances are they were produced in Israel. In December an amendment to the 1949 Flag and Emblem Law was passed on an existing law, under the heading "Mandatory purchase of state flags made in Israel." According to the amendment, the state and local authorities and all institutions that submit bids for purchase of flags are obligated to buy Israeli-made ones even if the price is higher than those made by Chinese or Turkish competitors.