We report the acceleration and deceleration of H(2) molecules in a supersonic molecular beam by means of its interaction with an intense optical gradient from a nanosecond far-off-resonant optical pulse. The strong optical gradients are formed in the interference pattern of two intense optical pulses at 532 nm. The velocity distribution of the molecular beam, before and after the applied optical pulse, is measured by a velocity-mapped ion imaging technique. Changes in velocity up to 202 m s(-1)+/- 61 m s(-1) are observed in a molecular beam initially travelling at a mean speed of 563 m s(-1). We report the dependence of this change in velocity with the strength of the optical gradient applied.