I first had the opportunity to meet my colleague Rami Hamdallah in the context of his rectorship of An Najah University, a member of the Mediterranean Universities Union-UNIMED. UNIMED is an association founded in 1991 whose main aim is to develop scientific and educational cooperation in the Euro-Mediterranean region, by establishing collaboration between universities on the shores of the Mediterranean in the field of education, research and culture.

Hamdallah is humble, transparent, credible, very close to the people, and always supports the poor and those with special needs. He managed to personally raise over $400 million for his university, not to mention the construction and equipping of the New Campus and University Hospital. Hamdallah occupied a place on UNIMED’s board of directors before being called to serve as president of the Palestinian Authority, a task to which he will no doubt devote himself with the same diligence and balance which have characterized his supporting of UNIMED’s objectives.

His collaboration with our association has always been characterized by his institutional seriousness, and has allowed for the implementation of several projects in the field of education and research. An Najah University has participated, thanks to his experience and sense of cooperation, in many projects and programs aimed at inter-university cooperation. He has been a strong supporter of the petition for the expansion to the Mediterranean region of the Erasmus student exchange program launched by our network.

Thanks to UNIMED associates’ support, about 5,000 signatures from 55 different countries were collected in a few months. It has been an extraordinary success that inspired us to keep moving forward with our commitment to fulfill this important goal, which is not merely symbolic.

Palestinian universities, starting with the University of Nablus, thanks mainly to his willingness, follow-up and encouragement, have been participating in this initiative, providing us with their support and demanding to move ahead this idea of the Mediterranean Erasmus program.

On January 10th, 2012, UNIMED handed in the signatures of the online petition to the European Commissioner for Education, Androulla Vassiliou, during the “Case for EUROMED ‘Erasmus’ and ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ Programmes” conference held at the premises of the European Parliament, where An Najah University was also present representing its interest in the issue.

Mobility and research have been the key words of Hamdallah’s commitment to UNIMED, and we have many times appreciated his efforts to promote mobility programs and exchanges between his students and others coming from various countries of both shores of the Mediterranean basin.

The European Commission, thanks in part to our petition, decided to widen, at least partially, participation in the new “Erasmus for All” program for the non-European students. The new program will replace both the Erasmus and Erasmus Mundus programs and is set to come into force from 2014 to 2020.

Hamdallah has always favored opportunities for dialogue and meeting among universities of our network and outside it to promote intercultural dialogue and to better strengthen opportunities for Mediterranean students.

At UNIMED we are committed to: contributing to the integration of the Euro-Mediterranean Higher Education Area; full recognition of periods of study spent abroad; implementation of international cooperation and promotion of comparability in higher education systems across the Euro-Mediterranean area, while preserving the specificity of each country; ensuring full recognition of diplomas obtained abroad and boosting greater credit mobility, particularly through the promotion of joint masters degrees.

It is worthwhile to mention that in 1994 UNIMED, under the patronage of the European Commission, organized a forum on the peace process attended by both Palestinian and Israeli universities. Peace and dialogue have always guided Hamdallah’s commitment within UNIMED, in which three Israeli universities are members.

Moreover, thanks to Rami Hamdallah, UNIMED has also a regional office at the An Najah National University of Nablus since February, 1, 2010.

The opening ceremony took place in the conference hall of the main library of the Old Campus and was chaired by Prof. Rami Hamdallah, president of the An Najah National University, in the presence of representatives of several departments of the Palestinian university, the European Commission, Embassies, Consulates and Culture Institutes working in the Palestinian territory, and of a delegation from the Office of Development Cooperation of the Italian Consulate General to Jerusalem.

The An Najah-UNIMED Regional Office, the first UNIMED seat in the Middle East, plays a double role: on the one hand it follows UNIMED’s activities, strengthen the relations with the associated universities in the region and broadens the network in the southern shore of the Mediterranean and in the Middle East. On the other hand, it represents an opportunity for Arab countries to communicate with UNIMED’s headquarters, while also connecting UNIMED to Gulf countries.

The office works to make UNIMED’s main documents easier accessible to Arab countries, thanks to constant translation activities. Moreover, the office collaborates with the webzine MedArabNews, directly involving journalism departments and schools of Arab universities, experts and academics of the Middle East.

The author is UNIMED secretary-general.

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