With the withdrawal of Israeli forces, the challenge now is to provide humanitarian relief to Gaza as the first step towards resolution of the conflict, Congressman Dennis Kucinich told a large meeting Sunday at ACCESS, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services.

Kucinich urged public support for House Resolution 66 calling for unrestricted humanitarian access to Gaza. The bill is co-sponsored by eight other members of Congress. Kucinich said he would seek to get a companion bill introduced in the Senate.

Kucinich also distributed a letter he sent Jan. 23 to President Obama calling for immediate humanitarian assistance to Gaza and even-handed diplomacy to end the conflict.

The letter calls on Obama to reverse the policies of the Bush administration that “allowed a humanitarian crisis to engulf the civilian residents of Gaza” and urge Israel to end its blockade of the area. The letter also urges the president to negotiate a permanent cease-fire, “hold both Israel and Hamas to account for violations of international law, including the laws of warfare and U.S. laws controlling military aid to foreign countries and ensure that Special Envoy George Mitchell has the support of diverse advisers.”

“The security and well-being of both Israel and Palestine require that the U.S. take decisive and immediate action to resume our role as an honest broker of peace,” the letter states.

Kucinich was one of five members of Congress to oppose the resolution endorsing Israel’s invasion of Gaza, but, he said, “Gaza opened people’s eyes – even those who voted for the resolution.

“I am confident Congress wants a new direction,” Kucinich declared. “The new administration must guarantee the Palestinians have a place they can call their own. We need to unite this community to support this new direction and guarantee peace for the Israelis and peace and finally justice for the Palestinians.”

The humanitarian issue is immediate, Kucinich said, but “it opens the door to more long-range issues.” The Obama administration, he said, “understands the centrality of bringing relief to the Palestinians. The U.S. can no longer have policies of participation in aggression against Gaza.”

Key to the new understanding that is emerging, Kucinich said, are new peace advocates in the Jewish community, including groups like J Street and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Committee for Justice and Peace, which have met with people in the Obama administration as well as Kucinich and other members of Congress. “Now there is more than one voice,” he said.

Asked about Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff, who has long ties with Israel, Kucinich said Emanuel “is in a good position to guide a new direction.”

“I cannot stress strongly enough the need to break out of the cocoons of the past.”

Kucinich said he wants to meet with groups in the Jewish community, speak in synagogues and then call a large town hall meeting involving both the Jewish and Arab-American communities.