The quality that distinguishes terrorism from violence in general is not merely that it is political, but that it is opprobrious because it targets innocent people by design. In my own work I have insisted that terrorism may be carried out by non-state actors as well as by governments, including our own. You can find this approach developed in my old essay in Ethics and International Affairs, in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, and in a variety of other publications. Unless we insist on preserving the term "terrorism" to refer to opprobrious violence, the term is, in a sense, cheapened and it becomes only a rhetorical bludgeon.
This brings me to the case of Samir Kuntar (Quntar), the Druze terrorist who has been in jail in Israel for almost three decades for the murder of a father and child. By my understanding, what this then young man did was unquestionably a truly despicable act of terrorism. I happen to know a bit about the victims who lived at 61 Jabotinsky Street in Nahariyya, Israel, and I find the account from the trial of Kuntar an accurate depiction.
One may argue that his pending release by Israel is something of a political victory for Hezbollah, as Amal Saad-Ghorayeb does, but it is simultaneously a moral defeat for Hezbollah. This man was not a victim, but a bona fide terrorist. He is not like those Lebanese seized, reprehensibly, by Israel in years past to be held for years as bargaining chips, or those Lebanese jailed by Israel for fighting to liberate their country. Whether Christian, Jewish, Hindu or Muslim, there should be not doubt about the distinction being made here. The fact that Hezbollah has made his release a centerpiece of its policy, and that his release was a rationale for the infamous operation of July 12, 2006, undermines whatever moral claim the group might otherwise make.
The Israel-Hizbollah prisoner-deal | open Democracy News Analysis